When the loveable Mickey Mouse was born, he was maybe not-quite-so-loveable.
The year was 1928, and Walt Disney’s studio already had a hit on its hands, in the shape of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald had been developed for Universal studios, and his name had been plucked out of a hat by Universal executives.
But later that year, under pressure from his distributor, Walt Disney quit his own studio, leaving Oswald to fend for himself at Universal. Disney determined to create a character of his own.
The resulting creation made his debut that same year, in Steamboat Willie. Having rejected a male horse, a female cow and even a male frog, Disney’s Mickey was a Mouse—but he was a mouse that bore more than a passing resemblance to a rabbit, and more specifically, to a rabbit called Oswald.
Despite the odd appearance of the hybrid rabbit/mouse, Mickey was an instant smash—but it was sometime before the definitive, circle-based, Mickey Mouse became fixed on the screen.
The real challenge came when the public wanted to meet Mickey in-person (in-mouse?). He made his first real-world appearance on March 12th, 1931 in Los Angeles.
However, as these pictures show, it would be some time before Mickey’s look was completely locked down.
Mickey on top of a pile of letters that he received from fans.
Henry Guttmann Collection/Getty Images
Walt Disney presented with a diploma of commendation from the National Academy of Fine Arts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mickey and Minnie look on.
Mickey, Oswald, and a Frog.
Lily Pons, singer at New York’s Metropolitan Opera with Mickey and Minnie.
Keystone France/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Winners of “Mickey Mouse” week at Russells Restaurant, Leicester Square, London.
A Mickey Mouse race during the Mickey Mouse Club Sports Day, Guildford.
Fred Morley/Fox Photos/Getty Images
Mickey at the wheel of his own car, bearing his personal coat of arms, at the studio.
Mickey and Minnie Mouse at a dress rehearsal of the Woolwich Searchlight Tattoo, London.
Mickey Mouse and Minnie inspecting the toy soldiers.
An employee at Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum on Marylebone Road, London, putting the finishing touches to a waxwork of Mickey Mouse at the keyboard.
Douglas Miller/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
During a London County Council election campaign run, Mickey Mouse is showing on a small screen in a city street.
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Mickie as a guest at a party given to 350 children by the 562 Battery Searchlight Regt, Streatham, London.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Join Our Newsletter
Our most popular articles, timely advice, and the trends that affect you—delivered to your inbox.