January 11, 1929 – The First Mickey Mouse Club is Formed
“Mickey Mice do not swear, smoke, cheat, or lie!”
At noon on January 11, 1929, the first Mickey Mouse Club was called to order in the Fox Dome Theater in Ocean Park, California. The club was the idea of the theater’s manager, Harry W. Woodin, which he began during the children’s matinee shows on Saturdays. Soon, these clubs spread like wildfire, and by the height of their popularity in 1932, it was estimated that there were one million members worldwide, with many clubs meeting every week. During club meetings, children would watch Mickey Mouse cartoons, recite the Mickey Mouse credo, and elect a Chief Mickey and Chief Minnie Mouse.
Intrigued with Woodin’s concept, Walt Disney saw that there were many opportunities for merchandising through the clubs, as well as convincing more children to attend the theater to see new Mickey Mouse shorts. Disney hired Woodin to be the general manager of these club gatherings. Woodin’s job included printing and sending fliers to theaters across the country, instructing them on how to develop the clubs and help local businesses through advertisements in the club bulletins. Business began to boom through the name of Mickey Mouse: Bakeries would offer free Mickey birthday cakes, banks gave away Mickey savings banks, and department stores would give away free Mickey toys to entice customers to look at their more expensive toys. Clubs were formed not only across the United States, but also in England and Canada, among other countries, by 1930. The Odeon Theatre chain in England had 160 clubs with 110,000 members by the peak of the club’s popularity.
The club itself taught children how to be model citizens. Children would recite, “Mickey Mice do not swear, smoke, cheat, or lie!” Mickey himself would instruct the kids on topics such as how to brush their teeth and wash behind their ears, respect their parents, attend Sunday school, and on the virtues of honesty and honor. The creed of Mickey Mouse Club members was as follows:
I will be a square shooter in my home, in school, on the playground and where ever I may be.
I will be truthful and honorable and strive, always, to make myself a better and more useful little citizen.
I will respect my elders and help the aged, the helpless and children smaller than myself.
In short, I will be a good American!
The highlight of these clubs, naturally, was the Mickey Mouse cartoons. To that end, Walt Disney had a special animated short for the club meetings of the club’s theme song, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo.” Written by Walt Disney and Carl Stalling, the song was the first Disney song released on sheet music. The animated short that accompanied the song had Mickey singing the first verse, before encouraging the children to sing as the lyrics would show up on the screen.
Mickey Mouse’s explosive popularity was a big part of American culture in the late ’20s and early ’30s. With the credo recited at these meetings, as well as the lessons Mickey would teach the children, it’s no wonder that Mickey was seen as a positive role model, and parents would object if Mickey was seen doing something reckless, as he did in many of his early shorts. The clubs held steady in their popularity with the Disney stamp of approval until 1935, when the popularity of these clubs began to wane. The clubs did continue unofficially through World War II, with Mickey and friends extolling the importance of planting Victory Gardens and donating old toys for scrap. It would be 23 years until the television version of the Mickey Mouse Club would appear in people’s homes.