This Day in History

May 29, 1941: Disney Animators’ Strike

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Themes: Labor

Disney Animators on strike May 29, 1941.

On May 29, 1941, Disney animators launched a strike. Tom Sito, one of the animators, explains:

Labor pressures had been building in the Magic Kingdom since promises made to artists over the success of Snow White were reneged on, and Walt Disney’s lawyer Gunther Lessing encouraged a hard line with his employees.

On May 28, in defiance of the Wagner act, Disney fired animator Art Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, and 13 other cartoonists for demanding a union. A motion to strike was made that evening.

The picket line with major cartoonists began the next morning.

Walt Disney nearly had a nervous breakdown over the strike and a federal mediator was sent by Washington to arbitrate. In later years, Uncle Walt blamed the studio’s labor ills on Communists. The studio unionized completely, but the hard feelings remained for their rest of their lives.

Learn more in “The Disney Strike of 1941: How It Changed Animation & Comics” by Tom Sito and the book Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson (University Press of Kentucky). Read a sample chapter online, Excerpt from Chapter 6, “The Great Disney Studio Strike of 1941.”

Below find lessons and resources for teaching labor history, outside the textbook.