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It all started with a… toy?


How did this one get by me? Did Walt Disney name his most famous creation after a toy, Micky Mouse (sic)?

On eBay today, someone is selling a 1925 Micky Mouse doll, along with a stock certificate from the long-defunct Performo-Toy Company. According to the seller:

“…it has been reported that all documents from the Performo Toy Company relating to this Micky Mouse toy were ordered to be destroyed after a Law suit filed by Disney that stated this mouse toy was originally taken from Disney…”

Apparently there are even TWO books about this Micky doll and Performo Toys: Broken Toy and Who Was First?


I’d never heard about this before, have you?

(Thanks, Kevin Coffey)

  • Tory

    This was an episode of the PBS show History Detectives. A transcript of the PBS show is here.

    • david grove

      I saw that show. They interviewed 1 toy collector who had a huge amount of Disney toys (bias?) and called him an expert. They didn’t find another expert either to support what the first “expert” said or to come up with an opposing view.

      I used to work at a PBS station. I was an online editor before I become a camera operator (I work in the film/tv industry). I know producers who work on segments like this on shows like that and they have VERY limited time and resources (it is PBS after all) to do ample research.

      Performo’s Micky came out two years prior to Mickey. On the east coast Performo toys were extremely popular. Regardless of coincidence there was a clear violation of patent.

      Rene Grove was the creator of the wooden Micky toy. His younger brother and my grandfather, Larry Grove came up with the name. They had a “Name the mouse contest” and he won. My Grandfather also worked at the toy company for a short while gluing the legs onto the body of the mouse.

      Patent Schmatent…..

  • Steven Rowe

    No, cant say I have heard of it. So how many pre-Disney Mickey Mouses have been found so far?

  • Christopher Olson

    I remember a similar “controversy” over J.K. Rowling and who really invented Harry Potter. It turns out that J.K. Rowling did, but there was also a series of preschool books with a kid named Harry who wore dark rimmed glasses. Other than the name and face, there should be no controversy here.

  • animalmother

    im not sure but i think it was the subject of a segment on a pbs show called the history detectives. i might be wrong.

  • Zany

    whoa!!! very interesting

  • Jeff

    This appeared on PBS’ History Detectives some time ago. I have only seen this show twice, and both times it was this episode and by accident.

  • They had a segment on this on History Detectives on PBS. I think the gist was that it was a huge coincidence, or just one of those things. Common name, common animal, etc.

  • EEK!

  • Woah. Never heard of this. Good find!

  • chuck R.

    This is very interesting, and I’d call foul if I didn’t already know that Mickey is just a reincarnation of Elmo the Aaardvark :-)

  • I read about this a year or so ago on another blog, possibly Drawn! or Bedazzled or somewhere like that after stumbling onto a google image of it while looking for a Micky toy for my son.

  • There is an episode of the PBS series HISTORY DETECTIVES that dives into the history of this toy and the story behind it and the company. It’s a really good piece, it runs about a third of the hour long show. My TiVo grabbed it for me last year.

  • Alexander Curtis

    Wow, I’d never heard of this before either. But, I have to ask, who cares? No one fell in love with Micky Mouse because of his name, they fell in love with the character. That character was all Disney.

  • Mac

    The PBS series “History Detectives” looked into this issue in one segment last summer. As I recall, it was clear that the “Micky Mouse” doll preceded Mickey by a few years, but there was no way of establishing that Disney somehow stole the idea for his character from the toy company. (My own guess is that the name “Mickey Mouse” sounded “right” to Disney due to some unconscious familiarity with the doll, which was apparently fairly popular–but the characters look so different that I can’t believe it’s anything more than that.) The History Detectives also looked into the rumor that Disney had squashed the toy company, but (if memory serves) they could find no documentation other than hearsay to verify this.

  • anthony

    I have a very strong memory of this topic coming up on a local talk show in New York in the 1970s (Midday with Bill Boggs on WNEW/5). I was 10 or 11 at the time and watching during the summer because they were doing a special on Mickey’s 50th anniversary with Disney clips and live-action stars and Mickey in the form of a Disney costumed performer. Somehow in all of the Disney love, the producers had snuck in a Disney collector with the Micky doll and it was quickly glossed over with a “could it be? that’s fascinating…” by Bill Boggs, but my 10-year-old mind couldn’t understand how he managed to stay calm with this faith-shattering revelation.

  • Russell H

    A couple of years ago there was an episode of the PBS series “History Detective” with a segment about this toy. I think the series is out on DVD so one may be able to get hold of this.

    For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s like a “C.S.I. version” of “Antiques Roadshow.” People with unusual historical items contact the show to see if their experts can track down their provenance or significance. Some really amazing items have turned up (e.g., unknown home-movies of Hitler taken by his cook, a flag that covered President McKinley’s coffin, etc.).

  • Mawnck

    IIRC, the History Detectives said there may have been some sort of legal action involving the toy, but that was only after the toy company modified their Micky to look more like the Disney character (IE added red shorts and yellow shoes). They ended their story by showing other pre-Mickey cartoon rodents that looked similar, noting that the Disney Mickey was really based on all the cartoon mice that had preceded him.

  • Some Old Weird Toy

    Very interesting. The mystery of Mickey’s actual origin just gets deeper and deeper (though it is true that people fell in love with the character rather than the name; it’s kind of like how it bothers me when “Porky’s Hare Hunt” is called the first Bugs Bunny cartoon when the Bugs we all know and love doesn’t show up until “A Wild Hare”.) Is anyone else reminded of the Chester J. Lampwick episode of “The Simpsons” when this subject comes up?

  • Fred Sparrman

    Well, come on, it’s not like it’s BALTHAZAR Mouse! I’ll bet if you scoured children’s literature, old toys, comic strips, etc., you could turn up at least a dozen occurrences of a “Mick(e)y Mouse” that predate Walt’s. People love alliteration when naming kids’ animal characters.

  • The History Detectives show really covers all the angles of this—and better than the books you illustrated. We learn, for example, that in the wake of the success of Disney’s Mickey, Performa clothed its hitherto-naked Micky identically, right down to the color (and I’ve seen this later version of the doll for myself). Any legal trouble with Disney, though unproven, would really seem to have stemmed from that.

  • wow…it’s like the whole Kimba vs. Lion King bit. I’ve NEVER heard anything about this one though.

  • Andrew N

    There’s also the fact Walt Disney wanted to call his star “Mortimer”; “Mickey” was a sugestion from someone close to him.
    The case is probably just an coincidence; fun and all, but no foul play here.

  • That toy design screams “russian” to me, I have no idea why… so does the name… Do you even pronounce it the same way without the e?…
    The toy looks like he’s about to get hit by a truck anyway.


  • As far as the name goes, I think the story always had it that Walt gave the Mouse the name “Mortimer” when he thought him up, but that Lilian, (Walt’s wife) thought it too pretentious and she dubbed him “Mickey”. They had no kids yet, so I doubt either were aware of the toy until later.

    One of Mickey’s comic book nephews was later named “Morty” as a reference to this.

  • Lotte Ann Ratinger

    Well, why wouldn’t he steal it? He stole the Fantasia idea from Oskar Fischinger, including Fischinger’s ideas for the music! Hey, to some, Geld ist ALLES!!! Dreimal hoch für Fischinger!!

  • This fresco from Austria is over 700 years old (preceding the toy and the cartoon debut by several centuries).

    Maybe the toy maker is of Austrian decent?

    You can read all about it here.

  • It’s interesting in looking at the early development of Mickey Mouse to note how common the basic design was , to the point where was almost treated as a “shared” generic mouse design among Terry, Disney/Iwerks, Harman & Ising , Ub Iwerks (after he struck out on his own) and the same mouse design even shows up in at least one Fleischer cartoon (“The Bum Bandit” ,1931) The Harman & Ising connection is obvious , and I think both Disney, Iwerks ,Harman , and Ising were originally “borrowing” the design from Paul Terry’s ubiquitous mice. After Mickey Mouse became an established star character for Disney it seems like the other studios gradually stopped using the exact same mouse design (although each studio continued with various Mickey surrogate characters that had more or less the same design, even if it wasn’t called a mouse . For example :
    Foxy )

    I don’t think Disney ever legally went after Iwerks or Harman & Ising for their use of the generic “Mickey” mouse design because it would have been too hard to make the case that they stole the design from Disney , since all of them had been drawing similar mice characters (ripped off from Paul Terry) for several years previously , before Mickey Mouse debuted.

  • Tom Bertino

    Me, I’ve been aware of “Micky” for almost 40 years, from my earliest flea-marketing days. And there was apparently a SERIES of Micky toys, too…in addition to the one pictured, I’ve seen a flat wooden one with articulated arms and legs, and one riding a scooter, all with the “Micky” label. Was completely unaware of the books, however!

  • Walt Disney is a theif! (ha ha) I don’t know but that sounds kind of shadey to me. Awesome find….

  • Not only have you heard of it, Jerry, you posted about the History Detectives segment a couple of years ago. See:

  • Rob

    If this is true, wouldn’t blame fall more on Ub Iwerks than Disney? Ub was supposed to be inspired to design mickey based off of Hugh Harmon’s 1925 sketches. Maybe Harmon’s sketches were inspired by a toy that came out that year?
    I almost like those block-feet better.

  • red pill junkie

    Well, there’s still people fighting over who built the PYRAMIDS, so I expect this Mick(e)y controversy to persist aswell ;-)

  • Rusty door

    Somebody needs to remind these accusers that Disney himself was originally going to name his mouse Mortimer. Other then the name and black and white color scheme; there is little similarity to the animated Mickey. This toy is noseless, has a wedge-shaped body, blocky feet, and a ball at the end of its tail but the better known Mickey does not.

  • Bill Field

    There was a similar urban legend of a Duck toy wearing a sailors hat- named Donnybrook Duck from around the same era– Are we now finding out FAO Schwartz had more to do with the Disney legacy than Uncle Walt? I need some ideas– if you need me, I’ll be at Toys R Toons–er- I mean, Toys R US!

  • Mac – Do you happen to remember whether it was said who named Mickey the Disney character? I’m asking, because I’m wondering if, since it was established that the toy came first, Ub Iwerks, who from what I understand drew Mickey as a variation on a fairly well established stock cartoon animal look, presented him to Disney already having named him?

    My first thoughts after reading your comment were, hey, maybe the toy was conceived of based loosely on the popular look for cartoon animals, then maybe Iwerks, not really giving it conscious thought, took second generation inspiration partly from the toy (perhaps having stumbled across it or an image of it). Since cartoon animals tended to look like this, there hardly seems any reason to think about stealing ideas or any even direct, conscious inspiration; rather just riffing on a culturally popular look. Then perhaps Iwerks’ subconscious slipped him a ‘Mickey’.

    Of course, I have yet to read the transcript of the PBS special. I will be doing that.

  • tom

    You know, there has always been something pat and phony about the story of Walt’s Mrs. suggesting “Mickey” as a replacement for “Mortimer”. It wouldn’t shock me to learn that Walt copped the name thinking that no one would care.

  • Ron

    Need I remind you all that according to animation history: Walt originally wanted to call his mouse character “Mortimer” but changed it to “Mickey” at his wife’s behest. If anyone should be blamed for plagiarizing this toy company it’s her! (kidding. )I never saw the History Detectives show but it seems like it’s just a coincidence.

  • Does everyone disregard then, the old chestnut about Mrs Disney re-naming the mouse “Mickey” after Walt showed it to her after his famous train ride, declaring it (the mouse) a “Mortimer”?

  • I was more interested in the message at the bottom, from one of the company founder’s descendants.

    Quite sad.

  • Shmorky

    Just when you think you know everything about cartoons… Good lord! I gotta read those books!

  • Vince

    I heard about this on a program on the history channel. The conclusion was that the relationship between Micky mouse and Disney’s Mickey Mouse were coincidental. And that the toy company just went out of business like most other companies at the time. Yet, didn’t Walt want to call his mouse Mortimer to begin with?

  • Like many, many other commenters I’ve seen this on History Detectives.

    One cool thing about the segment is that they acknowledge Felix the Cat and other pre-Mickey mouse characters in cartoons: “Mickey evolved from a whole series of generic mice that were in every cartoon before him. Wes, take a look at this. Here’s Felix the Cat in 1922. Every Felix cartoon had mice like that in it. Here’s Milton Mouse from Aesop’s Movie Fables in 1920. And here’s Ignatz Mouse. Sure looks a lot like that Mickey, doesn’t he? He was in Krazy Kat cartoons and comic strip from 1914 on…. These mice were everywhere.”

    Here’s the patent for Micky on Google Patents:

  • TimmyElliot

    This thread is hilarious. It was like everyone was in a mad scramble to mention that PBS Series “History Detectives.”

  • Jayster

    “This thread is hilarious. It was like everyone was in a mad scramble to mention that PBS Series “History Detectives.â€?”

    That and to mention Mortimer was the original name for the mouse. It is funny to see so many alike comments. It was a good special though, really left no chance of the toy being ripped off from. But it does seem as though a number of readers were unaware as well.

    That looks like a lousy toy as a side note.

  • Brent Swanson

    I came across one of these in a Montana antique store years ago, but the name on the toy was “Ignatz.” Have any of the books/documentaries mentioned this variant and when it was produced?

  • “It is funny to see so many alike comments.”

    It’s on account of all the comments awaiting moderation that all get dumped here at the same time.

  • AdamNot only have you heard of it, Jerry, you posted about the History Detectives segment a couple of years ago. See:

    Thank you Adam. I’m obviously getting old and losing my memory.

  • Hooper

    Just to add something new to this thread… for the last few years, Mickey Rooney has been telling a story (including in his autobiography: “Life’s Too Short”) of how Walt Disney met a very young Rooney and told him, to his face, that he was going to re-name Mortimer Mouse after him!

  • Joe

    Has anyone read either or both of the 2 books cited?

  • “Mortimer” was also the name of the rat in “Mickey’s Rival.”

  • Actually, Walt did talk to Rudy Ising informally and told him to please knock it off with the ‘Foxy’ cartoons (the result was ‘Piggy’).

  • Spock Foolish

    Ironically, “Micky” looks like he’s made out of wedges of cheese.

  • The TV series “New Detectives” did a segment on this and their final conclusion was that Disney probably did not get Mickey’s name from this toy.

  • Mike

    You couldn’t give him the benefit of the doubt though. Dumbo is about the only original story Disney (& the Disney Co.) could take credit for making a movie out of….

  • doug holverson

    At least you’re in smart company with all these PBS watchers!

    Now if they would release that ’70s animation festival on DVD. That would get my pledge money, even if I do have to sit through that nasty “Hunger” film.

  • Mark Earl

    It is suprising what kind of a cheap toy could get a patent back in 1926.
    It looks like it was designed to be easy to make, but ugly as heck.

    The sad part about the History detective show was the the toy company was sued out of business by Disney, even though the toy was being sold a year or two before Disney’s Mickey Mouse came out. At least that’s how I remember it??

  • Jorge Garrido

    >Actually, Walt did talk to Rudy Ising informally and told him to please knock it off with the ‘Foxy’ cartoons (the result was ‘Piggy’).

    And Rudy responded by having Piggy imitate Steamboat Willy. Hilarious.

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but that is one of the coolest toys I’ve ever seen.

  • Mike

    also noted:
    Ub Iwerks was the person who created the Mickey Mouse character for Disney…could he have had one of these toys in the garage with him while he was making “Plane Crazy?”

  • David

    Hey, wasn’t this all settled on The Simpsons decades ago?

  • Fred Sparrman

    Reiterating what I said above, today (11/6/07) Michael Barrier posted a 1921 Johnny Gruelle illustrated magazine story where two of the characters are named Mickie Mouse and Minnie Mouse!

  • ANDY


  • MGH

    The collection was sold for $283.97

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