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The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States’ subsequent entry into World War II affected every corner of American life. That included the Walt Disney Studios. On the day of the attack, army troops arrived at the Disney lot in Burbank, California, to set up an anti-aircraft battery.

Walt Disney and his staff pledged their support to the war effort, with the studio devoting over 90 percent of its wartime output to producing training, propaganda, entertainment, and public-service films, starting with a short for Lockheed titled Four Methods of Flush Riveting. Disney also produced publicity and print campaigns—almost all without profit. Even the animated members of Disney’s entourage supported the war effort, appearing in advertisements, stamp books, magazines, and government posters to promote war bond sales, food recycling, and more. (When government officials objected to Donald Duck appearing in a short for the Internal Revenue Bureau about the importance of paying taxes, Walt pointed out that getting the duck was equivalent to MGM loaning out Clark Gable.)

In March 2023 the National WWII Museum opened a special traveling exhibit, The Walt Disney Studios and World War II, which explores how the beloved entertainment company supported the war. Organized by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California, the exhibit features more than 500 rare historical artifacts and film clips and includes profiles of Disney employees who left the studio to join the armed forces.

Located in the heart of New Orleans, the National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. The Walt Disney Studios and World War II will be at the museum through September 24, 2023. 

Donald Duck and Goofy are up to their usual antics in Disney-created artwork for Cochran Army Airfield in Macon, Georgia. (Courtesy the Walt Disney Archives, ©Disney)

These matchbooks sport unit insignia created by Disney. Studio artists designed more than 1,200 such insignia during the war. (The National WWII Museum)
Disney artist Henry “Hank” Porter contributed this illustration for a Masquers Servicemen’s Morale Corps program. The Masquers Club in Hollywood hosted the events to honor American servicemen and women. (Courtesy Kent Ramsey, ©Disney)
Walt Disney personally oversaw production of an adaptation of Alexander de Seversky’s best-selling Victory Through Air Power, for which this dramatic eagle was created. (Courtesy the Walt Disney Animation Research Library, ©Disney)
A story sketch depicts a preliminary scene for the 1942 short The Vanishing Private. (Collection of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©Disney)
Not even Donald Duck appreciated KP duty, as this Disney-designed apron reveals. (National WWII Museum)
Mickey Mouse reminded Americans to remain alert in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. (Courtesy the Walt Disney Archives, ©Disney)
Dumbo the elephant remained alert, too, in an insignia orginally created for the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Fresno, California. Released on October 31, 1941, Dumbo was slated to be the cover story for Time magazine on December 8, but news about Pearl Harbor took its place. (Courtesy Kent Ramsey, ©Disney)
Another Disney-designed insignia decorates the leather jacket of aviator R.C. Lehnert of Marine Fighting Squadron 422, also known as the “Flying Buccaneers.” (National WWII Museum)
Detail of “Flying Buccaneers” insignia. (National WWII Museum)

this article first appeared in world war II magazine

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