Walt Disney and World War II: New exhibit at Museum of Flight

Jul 8, 2022, 11:30 AM
A new exhibit called The Walt Disney Studios and World War II is on display at the Museum of Flight from July 9, 2022 until February 5, 2023. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)
(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

During World War II, American industry famously out-manufactured everyone else on the planet – with local companies like Boeing cranking out planes, Paccar building tanks, and shipyards launching vessels around the clock in order to give soldiers, sailors and airmen the tools they needed to get the job done: defeating the Axis powers.

A new exhibit at the Museum of Flight details how another sector of the economy, or, more precisely, how one specific company – Walt Disney Studios – also made invaluable contributions to the war effort, on a scale that would likely surprise all but the most dedicated of World War II scholars.

According to Kent A. Ramsey, Museum of Flight trustee, World War II author and scholar, and curator of the new exhibit The Walt Disney Studios and World War II, “few people realize that Walt Disney Studios, 90% [of their] production was dedicated to creating entertainment, educational, training and propaganda films, as well as insignia designs [for military units] and massive print media” for public information efforts from December 1941 until the war ended in 1945.

“The studio made a huge contribution as far as winning the war,” Ramsey said.

The exhibit, which was first displayed at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, features hundreds of rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts, including animation cels, photos, documents, embroidered patches, animated features, and other relics of World War II – nearly all of which bear the unmistakable creative touches of the House that Mickey Built.

Ramsey is a life-long student of World War II history, personally inspired by the sacrifice made by an American pilot named John G. Austin – an uncle who Ramsey never met.

“He was flying photo recon over Berlin, and then came back and was shot down over Gifhorn, Germany,” Ramsey told KIRO Newsradio, describing his uncle’s final flight in April 1945. “I visited his grave at the American Ardennes Cemetery several years ago, and he’s buried there with over 5,000 other air crew members.”

“I try to keep his spirit alive,” Ramsey continued, describing the final portion of the exhibit: a photo tribute to his uncle and a collection of his uncle’s personal belongings from the war, retrieved from a footlocker after his death and sent home to his grieving family.

“Look at it, and just remember the sacrifice that he made,” Ramsey said. “It’s why I do these things.”

The Walt Disney Studios and World War II opens Saturday, July 9 and will be on display until February 5, 2023. For more information about hours and admission prices, please visit the Museum of Flight website.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Walt Disney and World War II: New exhibit at Museum of Flight