Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Life Insurance?

Sep 30, 2020

More than 155.9 million people visited Walt Disney Company theme parks around the world last year.

Probably 155.8 million of them were unaware that the Disney theme parks owe their very existence to a life insurance policy. Walt Disney’s life insurance policy, to be exact.

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month, when we showcase how life insurance provides crucial financial support to Americans when they need it most.

For many, that support comes upon the death of a loved one.

But for others, the support comes when the policyholder is very much alive.

Policyholders of permanent life insurance can borrow against the cash value of their policies. Families affected by COVID-19 can tap these funds. Small business owners with liquidity needs can access them, too.

And so can Academy Award-winning filmmakers.

In the early 1950s, Walt Disney had a dream to purchase an orange grove near Anaheim, Calif. and build an amusement park unlike anything ever seen. But Walt’s dream was not shared by his brother, Roy, or other members of the Walt Disney Productions Board of Directors.

Too expensive. Too radical. Too different from filmmaking.

Too-da-loo, thought Walt.

He formed his own company, WED Enterprises, and handpicked a few studio employees to help him develop the park. To fund the fledgling operation, he sold his second home — and borrowed against the value of his life insurance policy.

With these funds, Walt and his “Imagineers” were able to create models and prototypes for Disneyland. Before long, Roy Disney and the rest of the board bought into Walt’s vision. On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates and quickly became one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

Like many businesses, the Walt Disney Company’s revenues this year have been impacted by the coronavirus. Disneyland has been closed since March. But when it reopens, it will likely be recognized once again as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Walt once said: “Always remember that this whole thing was started by a mouse.”

And never forget that it flourished thanks to life insurance.

David Nielsen

David Nielsen is Senior Director, Strategic Content/IMPACT at the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). His responsibilities include IMPACT and other ACLI publications, notably News Now & News Now International. A former bank examiner, business analyst and journalist, he joined ACLI in 2013.