Walt Disney is one of the most influential figures in animation and popular culture. His creative genius shaped iconic characters like Mickey Mouse and inspired theme parks that bring magic to millions. But before Walt became a household name, he was just a regular kid going to school.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Walt Disney attended elementary and high school in Chicago and Kansas City. He later took night classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Kansas City Art Institute.

In this in-depth article, we’ll explore Walt Disney’s educational journey from Midwest classrooms to nascent art studies. Learn little-known details about the future animation tycoon’s school days and early artistic experiences that set the stage for his incredible career.

Disney’s Early Schooling

Walt Disney, the legendary creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of the Disney empire, had a humble beginning when it came to his education. Let’s take a closer look at the schools that played a role in shaping his early years.

Attending Elementary School in Chicago

Disney’s educational journey began in Chicago, where he attended the Benton Grammar School. It was here that he developed a love for drawing and storytelling, skills that would later define his career.

Despite facing challenges in his personal life, Disney’s passion for art continued to grow during his time at Benton Grammar School.

Moving to Kansas City

After a few years in Chicago, Disney’s family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. He enrolled at the Park Elementary School, where he further honed his artistic abilities. It was during this time that Disney also discovered his interest in animation, a medium that would soon become his life’s work.

Marceline, Missouri

Disney’s time in Marceline, Missouri, holds a special place in his heart. He attended the Marceline Elementary School, where he found inspiration in the idyllic small-town atmosphere. Marceline served as the inspiration for Main Street USA in Disneyland, highlighting the lasting impact the town had on Disney’s imagination.

Although Disney’s formal education was modest, his relentless curiosity, creativity, and determination allowed him to achieve extraordinary success in the world of entertainment. Today, his name is synonymous with imagination and magic, and his legacy continues to inspire generations of dreamers around the world.

Disney’s High School Years

During his high school years, Walt Disney attended a few different schools that played a significant role in shaping his future as an artist and animator. Let’s take a closer look at this formative period in his life.

McKinley High School in Chicago

When Walt Disney was just a child, his family moved from their hometown of Marceline, Missouri to Chicago. It was during this time that he attended McKinley High School, a public school known for its emphasis on the arts.

It was at McKinley High School where Disney developed a passion for drawing and cartooning, often creating sketches in his spare time.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Walt Disney was the cartoonist for McKinley High School’s newspaper? He would often draw caricatures of his teachers and classmates, showcasing his artistic talent even at a young age.

Returning to Kansas City

After a few years in Chicago, Disney’s family moved back to Kansas City, where he continued his high school education at the Kansas City Art Institute. This institution provided him with further opportunities to refine his artistic skills and explore different art forms.

At the Kansas City Art Institute, Disney studied drawing, painting, and photography, which broadened his artistic horizons. He also became involved in the school’s animation club, where he experimented with creating short animated films.

Formative Art Experiences

While Disney’s formal education played a role in his artistic development, it was his real-life experiences that truly shaped him as a creator. During his high school years, Disney took on various jobs related to his passion for art, including working as a newspaper cartoonist and a commercial artist.

These experiences allowed Disney to hone his skills, learn new techniques, and gain a deeper understanding of the art industry. They also exposed him to different art styles and storytelling methods, all of which would later influence his iconic creations.

Inspiration: As a young artist, Disney drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, including comic strips, silent films, and fairy tales. These influences can be seen in his later work, where he seamlessly blended elements of humor, fantasy, and nostalgia.

Disney’s Art Education

Walt Disney, the legendary animator and creator of Mickey Mouse, had a passion for art from a young age. His artistic talents were nurtured through formal education, which played a significant role in shaping his career.

Let’s dive into Disney’s art education journey and discover the schools he attended and the impact they had on his creative development.

Studying at Chicago Academy of Fine Arts

Before Walt Disney became a household name, he enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1917. The academy provided a solid foundation in drawing and painting, honing his skills in creating characters and visual storytelling.

Disney’s time at the academy exposed him to various artistic techniques and styles, fostering his ability to bring imagination to life on the canvas.

Attending Kansas City Art Institute

After leaving the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, Disney moved to Kansas City, where he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute. This institute allowed him to further refine his artistic abilities and expand his knowledge in animation.

He immersed himself in courses that focused on the principles of animation, figure drawing, and visual storytelling. These skills would later prove invaluable in the creation of his iconic characters and groundbreaking animated films.

Influential Teachers and Classes

During his time at both the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Kansas City Art Institute, Disney had the opportunity to learn from influential teachers who had a profound impact on his artistic development.

One such teacher was renowned artist and illustrator George Bridgman, known for his expertise in figure drawing. Bridgman’s teachings provided Disney with a solid understanding of human anatomy, enabling him to create realistic and dynamic characters.

Furthermore, Disney’s exposure to classes on animation techniques and storytelling laid the groundwork for his innovative approach to animation. He learned the importance of capturing motion and conveying emotions through animation, concepts that would revolutionize the industry.

The Path to His Career

Walt Disney, the legendary creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of The Walt Disney Company, had a remarkable journey in his pursuit of a career in animation and entertainment. Although he didn’t attend a prestigious art school or receive a formal education in animation, Disney’s ambition and determination played a crucial role in shaping his future success.

Disney’s Ambition as a Young Man

Even as a young man, Disney had a burning desire to pursue a career in the arts. He had a natural talent for drawing and storytelling, which he nurtured through self-study and practice. While he didn’t have the opportunity to attend art school, Disney’s passion and dedication led him to seek out every possible avenue to learn and grow as an artist.

Disney’s early experiences working as a newspaper cartoonist and creating advertisements further honed his skills and allowed him to experiment with different art styles. These experiences laid a solid foundation for his future endeavors in animation.

First Animation Experiments

In the 1920s, Disney embarked on a series of animation experiments that would eventually shape the future of the industry. Alongside his brother Roy Disney, he founded the Disney Brothers Studio, which later became The Walt Disney Studio.

Together, they explored new techniques and pushed the boundaries of traditional animation.

One of Disney’s notable early successes was the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character that gained popularity and brought recognition to his studio. However, due to a contractual dispute, Disney lost the rights to Oswald, which led him to create a new character that would become an iconic symbol of entertainment: Mickey Mouse.

Launching Laugh-O-Gram Films

Disney’s ambition and entrepreneurial spirit led him to establish his own animation studio, called Laugh-O-Gram Films, in Kansas City. Through this venture, Disney created a series of short films known as the “Laugh-O-Grams,” which combined animation with live-action footage.

Despite facing financial difficulties, Disney’s creativity and determination shone through. The Laugh-O-Grams gained popularity and attracted the attention of distributors, but unfortunately, the studio was unable to sustain its success due to financial challenges.

Although Laugh-O-Gram Films eventually filed for bankruptcy, the experience taught Disney valuable lessons about business and filmmaking. It also laid the foundation for his future endeavors, as he set his sights on creating a new kind of animation studio that would revolutionize the industry.

While Walt Disney didn’t attend a specific school for animation, his path to success was paved with ambition, experimentation, and a relentless pursuit of his dreams. His journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring artists and entrepreneurs, reminding us that passion and determination can overcome any obstacle and lead to extraordinary achievements.


From Chicago schools to Missouri art studios, Walt Disney’s educational journey laid the groundwork for his later innovations. His Midwest upbringing, high school creativity, and art studies all contributed to Disney’s imaginative spirit and drive.

Though Walt Disney never earned a traditional degree, his innate talent combined with childhood lessons and early artistic training propelled him to change entertainment forever.

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