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This inventor's mouse and duck are more than 70 years old!

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By Paul Niemann

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[JUNE 3, 2004]  Before we get to our story, we should pause for a moment to honor the inventor of the hokeypokey, Larry LaPrise. Larry died last week at the age of 83. Everything was going just fine with the wake service until they put him into the casket. They put his left leg in first, and that's when all the trouble started...

Now back to our story.

Some stories tell of a person who did something spectacular in his lifetime to benefit millions of people, yet the person remains anonymous. With that kind of person, everyone knows his contribution, but no one knows his name.

This is not one of those stories.

This is a story about a man you've probably heard of unless you live in a cave -- a man who invented something called the multiplane camera in 1937. Most people have never heard of the multiplane camera, but it was the only invention this inventor ever patented. This single invention has touched the life of nearly every American, and the inventor's name is synonymous with the company he founded with his brother.

He was born in Chicago in 1901 and grew up on a farm near Marcelline, Mo. He kept a mouse AND a duck alive for more than 70 years. In fact, both the mouse and the duck are alive and doing well, even though the man died in 1966.

He grew up not far from where J.C. Penney (as in J.C. Penney) was born. J.C. Penney went on to amass a fortune as one of the world's most successful retailers, but the young farm boy's story is just as impressive. Farming wasn't what made him famous, though.

He began drawing at age 5 and sold his first works at age 7. When he was just 16, he wanted to join the military but was rejected because of his age. He then joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas. He was assigned to drive an ambulance, which he covered with cartoons that he had drawn.

When he returned stateside in 1920, he moved to Kansas City to begin a career as an advertising cartoonist. A few years later, he moved to California at age 22 with just $40 in his pocket to join his brother and pursue his dream.


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The aforementioned mouse and duck made him wealthy and famous during the Great Depression. You can imagine the popularity of a 70-year-old mouse and duck in circuses as a sideshow attraction. What a team!

That's not what happened, though. What's the significance of the multiplane camera, you ask?

The multiplane camera brought better-looking, richer animation to the big screen. It fueled the imagination of the inventor-artist and allowed other artists who worked for him to expand their work. He also used it to produce "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which was the first full-length animated film to use the multiplane camera, in 1937.

Since you've probably figured out the identities of the man and the mouse and the duck by now, there's no use in stringing you along any more. We're talking about Walt Disney (as in Walt Disney).

"Oh, I get it… That's the 70-year-old mouse and duck he was talking about."

Disney introduced Mickey Mouse in his second movie, "Steamboat Willie," in 1928 and Donald Duck in "The Little Wise Hen" in 1934.

Walt Disney earned the first of his 30 Academy Awards in 1932. He also received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He and his wife, Lilly, had two daughters.

What's particularly inspiring about Disney is how he rose out of nowhere to become an industry giant. From humble beginnings, the Disney Corporation has made hundreds of films since Walt left for Hollywood in 1923 to join his brother. Including theme parks and merchandise, the Disney Corporation rings up annual sales of $22 billion. Walt Disney was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame posthumously in 2000.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann is the author of "Invention Mysteries -- The Little-Known Stories Behind Well-Known Inventions." He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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