On this day November 18, 1928
Steamboat Willie, a animated cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse is released. It was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon released: (he had appeared two earlier efforts Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho).
It was also the first Disney cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Disney used Pat Powers’ Cinephone system, created by Powers using Lee De Forest’s Phonofilm system without giving De Forest any credit.
Steamboat Willie premiered at New York’s 79th Street Theatre, and played ahead of the independent film Gang War. Steamboat Willie was an immediate hit while Gang War is all but forgotten today.
The cartoon was written and directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The title is a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. Music for Steamboat Willie was put together by Wilfred Jackson, one of Disney’s animators — not, as sometimes reported, by Carl Stalling — and comprises popular melodies including “Steamboat Bill” and “Turkey in the Straw”.
It is noted in the history books as the first animated short feature film with a completely post-produced soundtrack of music, dialogue, and sound effects, although other cartoons with synchronized soundtracks had been exhibited before, notably by Max Fleischer’s series Song Car-Tunes made in DeForest Phonofilm starting in May 1924 — and including My Old Kentucky Home (1926) — and Paul Terry’s Dinner Time (released 1 September 1928).
The film has been the center of a variety of controversies regarding copyright. The copyright of the film has been repeatedly extended by acts of the United States Congress. However, recent evidence suggests that the film may be in the public domain due to technicalities related to the original copyright notice.
The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1994, it was voted #13 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.