America’s involvement in WWII saved its economy and many businesses with one notable exception – Walt Disney Studios. To survive, it joined the war.
Since its founding in 1923, Walt Disney’s rise was staggering. People thought that a job with them meant a job for life – even at the height of the Great Depression.
WWII changed all that because Europe was a major Disney market. The company lost profits, went into debt, and had to lay off much of its staff. But it wasn’t enough.
So they became a corporation in 1940 and raised money to pay off debts – but it still wasn’t enough. They needed a new market without changing their product, as well as funding for new projects.
The solution? Talk to the defense industries.
Lockheed Aircraft (now the Lockheed Corporation) was the first to bite. Lockheed needed something to teach people how to use their flush rivets. The result was the Four Methods of Flush Riveting, released in 1941.
The second to take up Disney’s offer was John Grierson, head of the National Film Board of Canada. Grierson wanted to promote the Canadian War Savings Plan without boring people to death. Disney came up with The Thrifty Pig, also in 1941. In it, the smart pig builds his brick house with Canadian war bonds, while the evil wolf wears a Nazi armband.
It was a hit. Grierson’s next commission was a training manual to teach Canadian soldiers how to use the Boys Mk 1 Anti-tank rifle without falling asleep. The result was another classic – Stop That Tank!
The film, lasting almost 22 minutes, combined information with entertainment and propaganda. The first portion makes fun of Hitler, who’s stopped by Canadian soldiers using the Boys MK. Then it moves onto the technical aspects of the weapon, how to use it, how it works, and how to clean and maintain it.
The movie also shows how weak Germans and their weapons are, providing a psychological boost to trainees before deployment. And by putting Hitler in hell, it highlighted the moral superiority of Canadian troops.
Impressed, the US military commissioned many more such films, thus saving Disney.