Micky Mouse vs Mickey Mouse

This eBay auction for a rare 1920s "Micky" Mouse toy from the Performo-Toy Company includes an article that looks into the possibility that Disney cheated the Performo-Toy Company out of the character.
200710171657 The events that followed are largely circumstantial, but Middletown historians believe it is likely that Walt Disney borrowed his most creative idea from the Performo-Toy Company. It is known that a mouse toy with the name Micky was being sold in toy stores all over New York City while Disney was visiting. Disney historians say the idea for Mickey Mouse was conceived by Disney while on the train to California, following the stressful New York business trip. The story goes that Disney suggested Mortimer for the name of his mouse character, but his wife Lillian felt Mickey was a more appropriate name. Regardless of how Disney reports the origin of Mickey Mouse, Middletown historians are certain that Micky Mouse originated in Middletown more than a year before he appeared in Hollywood. Was Disney's idea for Mickey Mouse derived from the popular Micky Mouse toy? Before you decide, consider the possibility that Micky Mouse toys were so popular they may have been sold on the train Disney was riding on his way from New York City to Los Angeles.

Micky Mouse, the toy, and Mickey Mouse, the cartoon movie star, coexisted from 1928 to 1931. By 1931, Disney's new animation and sound techniques had launched the cartoon Mickey to superstar status. Walt's brother Roy was put in charge of marketing Mickey Mouse merchandise. One of the items he sold was a toy replica of the cartoon. Mickey and Micky were now competing in the same market. Ironically, they used the Borgfeldt Company, the same distributor Performo-Toy Company had been using for years. The Disney Corporation sued the Performo-Toy Company claiming they took Micky from Disney. The small toy company was no match for the large production company and the courts ordered the Performo-Toy Company to stop all production of the Micky toys and destroy any existing stock. Even catalogs containing Micky had to be destroyed. This tragedy, along with the Great Depression, was enough to put the Performo-Toy Company out of business.

Link (Thanks, John!)


  1. “Mickey Mouse” is “Micky Maus” (or “Mickymaus”) in Germany, by the way.

    I guess the Diysney character was a product of its time. Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse movie, itself copied some aspects of Buster Keaton, I heard, and Felix the Cat also doesn’t look too different from Mickey and had been around and populr earlier. But this creative evolution is normal, everyone of us gets inspired by what we see around us and we adjust and adapt and improve — and laws should allow us to do so, too…

  2. It was the late ’80s and I had convinced my dad to dump his old Typewriter for an Amstrad Word Processor. The computer came with LOGO and I started playing with it all the time.
    I already owned a Commodore 64 and I entered the insanely long Hex code programs from Commpute! magazine all the time, but it was LOGO that truly taught me how programming works and how to think programmaticaly. I was 14 years old. I truly believe I owe my ability to code embedded systems to those early training sessions. Good times!

  3. Not only does Felix look similar to Mickey, but the cartoon mouse seemed to be a particular favorite of animators at the time. I’m guessing because it was a simple shape and easy to caricature.

    And think about how crazy this is… if you draw three overlapping circles and put them in just the right places, Disney can sue you for trademark infringement.

  4. PBS’ History Detectives covered this story recently. Some interesting facts came out –

    1) “Micky” was only one, & not even the first, of many very similar mouse toys dating back to the late teens.
    2) There are no court records or filings related to the Disney court case.
    3) Perfromo did manage to trade mark the Micky name & a patent filing for the toy was traced.

    PBS transcript is here –

  5. Intarnets Get Rich Quick Scheme

    1) Make t-shirts with original mickey mouse featured prominently.

    2) Make enough dough to fight court battle.

    3) Get sued by Disney.

    $) Countersue = profit… or repeat of the Performo story and new Great Depression.

    Either way, Disney sucks.

  6. Larry Lessig used to do a spectacular Keynote presentation showing the origins of Steamboat Willie in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill character.

    I wonder if he has a copy of the presentation sitting around the web somewhere?

  7. Disney’s previous star character was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Disney had gone to New York to meet with his distributor, Charles Mintz. Mintz informed him that he (Mintz), in fact owned Oswald, and that he’d lured several of Disney’s animators to come and work for him producing new Oswalds. It was on the way home that Disney came up with Mickey, who, as pretty much anyone can see, is Oswald with round ears instead of long ears. Maybe he stole the “Mickey” name, but that’s all.

  8. …Borgfeldt company. Hmm. Does this mean that Mickey was the first assimilation conducted by the Disneyborg Collective?

  9. It’s no surprise that Disney ordered the destruction of ALL Micky Mouse toys and all records that it ever existed. They didn’t want people to realize that Uncle Walt had ripped off the idea for Mickey.

    Back then the courts allowed this miscarriage of justice, but today, I’ll bet the heirs of that toy company could sue Disney for millions.

  10. 1- Do people not read before posting? This story was debunked by comment 4, 50 minutes after the original posting. Disney was a successful cartoon house but in no way a media monster.

    2- Steamboat Willie was in no way ‘stealing’ from Buster Keaton. It is clearly a parody/homage.

    3- And finally Mickey Mouse did not become popular because of his name. He became popular because of the quality of cartoons he starred in and the personality he was animated with.

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