Facial Hair Friday: Walt Disney, Presidential Aficionado

Today’s Facial Hair Friday post comes from Danielle Sklarew, an intern from the National Archives History Office.

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Photo of Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse (National Archives Identifier 7741408)

He built a media empire. His name is internationally known. His company’s products are loved. He almost always kept a mustache on his face. His name is Walter Disney, but you probably known him better as Walt.

Born in 1901, Disney and his brother Roy made themselves famous when they created Walt Disney Productions. Their iconic character, a spunky mouse named Mickey, captured the world’s attention. In 1955, Disneyland opened in southern California and has since expanded, with theme park locations in Florida, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo. In addition to his wildly successful film company and amusement park franchise, Walt Disney was also instrumental in the formation of the California Institute of the Arts in 1961.

Disney’s influence is again illustrated through documents housed in the National Archives. For example, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in California holds a letter that Walt Disney personally sent to Nixon while he was Vice President.

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Letter From Walt Disney to Vice President Nixon, 7/25/1956. (National Archives Identifier 595179)

In the letter, Disney asks Nixon to prepare for an interview on a Disney television show watched by children who were “tomorrow’s citizens and voters.” The interview never did occur, as indicated by the handwriting on the top of the page noting that Nixon’s “schedule [was] too tight.” However, Nixon was still involved closely with Disney and his company—Nixon visited Disneyland numerous times and was even given a ceremonial key to the park in 1955.

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Nixon and his family ride the Monorail at Disneyland with Walt Disney looking on, 1959. (National Archives Identifier 16916139)

Six years after Disney’s death in 1971, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida continued the tradition of Disney’s ties to the executive power. The amusement park is home to the “Hall of Presidents,” where each of the past and present U.S. Presidents are depicted animatronically. Park visitors get to hear the Presidents speak and are offered the opportunity to learn a bit about their histories.

While this project was completed after Disney had passed away, it was Walt Disney himself who came up with the idea to create the Hall of Presidents, as he wanted to bring the Presidency alive for all of his visitors to experience. His dream became a reality and the legacy of his fondness and respect for the Presidents remains at Walt Disney World today.

Walt Disney, who sported a mustache throughout his life, had a great affinity for the American Presidency, as he found many ways to incorporate the office of the President into the projects he took on at Walt Disney Productions.

In almost every picture you’ll find of Walt Disney, apart from photographs taken when he was a child and young adult, he has a mustache—it became an essential part of his look. However, Disney was not a proponent of mustaches for all. In fact, Disney banned his employees from growing facial hair at Disneyland when it opened. This rule remained long after he passed away and was incorporated into the employee rules for Disney World when the Florida park opened as well.

As years passed, employees at Disney parks have more leniency with their facial hair and are now allowed to grow well-groomed mustaches and beards as long as they stay within the regulations that the parks still have in place.

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