Micky Mouse

EM 000872978

EM 000872978

Of mice and money

In September 1951, the number one edition of "Micky Maus Magazin“appeared in Germany. The first real comic magazine on the black-and-white dominated (West) German print magazine market hit like a colourful bomb.

Post-war educated Germans, whose understanding of art was still clouded by the proverbial "mustiness of a thousand years", reviled the bubble stories as "trash" or sneered at them as cultureless American scribblings. But this could not stop the triumph of comics in the country of the picture story pioneer Wilhelm Busch.

What was new was the content, but also the colour: the comic was produced in four-colour printing. The "colourful monthly" was correspondingly expensive: it cost 75 pfennigs - roughly an average hourly wage at the time. Nevertheless, around 130,000 copies of the first issue were sold. The range must have been many times that, because the magazines were passed on among friends as coveted objects. The circulation soon rose to 400,00. The publication frequency was accelerated to fortnightly at first, and later to weekly. It remained that way for almost 60 years.

The mouse that made the country more colourful

Front page of the very first edition of  Micky Maus Magazin, September 1951

Front page of the very first edition of Micky Maus Magazin, September 1951

Germany was late to the party: in Italy, France and Great Britain, magazines with Walt Disney's characters had already appeared in the 1930s. But Nazi rule and the war delayed the start of comic culture in Germany. That was also the reason why the magazine was named after the mouse, who featured much less in it than the real star, Donald Duck. Hardly anyone in this country knew the drake at that time, while elsewhere he had long since outstripped Mickey. The mouse and the duck then paved the way for the first German comics like "Fix und Foxi" or "Sigurd".

Frau Fuchs' phenomenal penchant for verse

The first editor-in-chief of "Micky Maus Magazin“ was the art historian Dr. Erika Fuchs. As a translator of the US comics, she raised their language to a snappy literary level. Legendary are her hidden quotations from classics, her stick rhymes and, above all, her onomatopoetic neologism of shortening verbs to the root of the word in order to represent sounds and feelings: Brood! Moan! Swallow! Clink! Crunch! Groan! Sigh! This new "inflective" was later called "Erikativ" in her honour.

EM 018144471

EM 018144471

Fuchs (1906-2005) made an invaluable contribution to the enrichment of the German language and the establishment of comics as a form of pop culture in Germany. This is why the editor-in-chief of the comic, once reviled as a "trashy magazine", now has her own externer Link museum (in Schwarzenbach an der Saale) and why, for example, the feature section of the "FAZ" is firmly in the hands of Fuchs admirers.

The Micky Maus magazine, which Fuchs ran until 1988, temporarily reached record circulations of one million copies after the German reunification. After a rapid decline since the turn of the millennium, it has now settled down to a print run of about 70,000 issues and is now published only fortnightly, but more often with a "gimmick" (DE word mark 954028), an idea of the original rival paper "Yps", which Ehapa has since taken over. However, Ehapa also publishes a whole series of other publications with Disney characters, some of which achieve even higher circulations, such as the "Lustige Taschenbücher" or the special editions with stories by the great cartoonist Carl Barks.

Minnie Mouse trade mark (003332905)

Minnie Mouse trade mark (003332905)

By that time, Mickey Mouse (396494501 DE) was already the world's best-known comic figure. Although the premiere of the film "Steamboat Willie" on November 18, 1928 is often assumed to be the date of birth of the mouse, it actually had its screen debut on May 15 of the same year in the cartoon „externer Link Plane Crazy“.

In it, the mouse imitates the pilot Charles Lindbergh, who was the first to cross the Atlantic alone. Already at Mickey's side was girlfriend Minnie Mouse (IR 151050). However, this wonderfully chaotic little film was only shown once as a silent film during a test screening and was initially not distributed. Only after the success of "Steamboat Willie" did "Plane Crazy" return to the cinemas a year later with a soundtrack, this time with success.

The German Mickey trade mark (1008802 DE)

The German Mickey trade mark (1008802 DE)

Success - that is the star under which the anthropomorphic mouse was born. Today it is the trademark of one of the world's largest entertainment companies with annual sales of around 75 billion Euros (2020). But no one could have foreseen this success story in 1928.

The mouse once was a rabbit

Drawing Oswald the lucky rabbit

Longer ears, shorter nose: Mickey´s predecessor Oswald (No. 30621169)

The mouse began her career very modestly, as a substitute, so to speak. Until then, Walt Disney's first "star" had been a character called "Oswald the lucky Rabbit" 306211696 DE, a bunny Mickey looked very much like. Disney lost the rights to this character to its partner Universal Pictures after a dispute over production costs. Disney then developed the first Mickey Mouse cartoons together with his employee Ub Iwerks, while Universal released further Oswald films. Today, the Oswald trade mark rights are owned by Disney again.

In the beginning there was the mouse

Originally the mouse was supposed to be called "Mortimer", but Disney's wife allegedly found this name too conservative; she is said to have suggested "Mickey". Walt Disney not only gave Mickey his voice in the first talkies himself, he also invested all of his money (which wasn´t that much, back then) in the career of his mouse.

The enormous success, which quickly set in, proved him right. He not only proved a lucky hand artistically, but also showed his entrepreneurial qualities by securing his creations with industrial property rights and then being one of the first to merchandise on a large scale. The first licensed product to adorn the mouse appeared as early as 1930. And his company continues to pursue this profitable strategy to this day with the utmost perfection.

Milking the mouse

A rather famous fawn (176503 DE)

A rather famous fawn (176503 DE)

More than 1000 Disney trademarks are currently registered at the DPMA database DPMAregister After Mickey Mouse, Disney developed many more popular cartoon characters, all of which he secured with all industrial property rights. Of course, the international markets were also kept in mind and the respective national names of the figures such as „Micky Maus“ or, for example, "Dippy" or "Bucefalo" were also secured for Goofy as a brand.

Screen with ears (000287578_0003_1)

The screens have ears (No. 000287578_0003_1)

In addition, Disney secured its most popular characters as a word-figurative trademark, such as Bambi or the silhouette of Mary Poppins.

And the mouse was milked over and over again: Disney registered designs for televisions and computer screens with mouse ears (000287578_0003_1) or - particularly ingenious - for a computer mouse in Mickey style.

Cartoon pioneer with a well thought-out patent policy


Disney was not only a pioneer of merchandising, his company also made decisive advances in film technology, especially in its early years. Numerous patent applications such as "Method for synchronizing photoplays" ( pdf-Datei US1941341A) or "Method of creating cartoon effects" ( pdf-Datei US2260092A) in the 1930s bear witness to how the company tinkered with ever more successful animated films and promoted the "Art of Animation" ( pdf-Datei US2201689A, 1936).

Technical perfection is still a hallmark of the multimedia company's films, which continues to file new patents such as "Physical face cloning" ( pdf-Datei US020150317451A1 (1,55 MB)) or, most recently, "Variable Resolution recognition"( pdf-Datei US020210019509A1 (1,38 MB)) or "Blockchain configuration" ( pdf-Datei US020210218550A1).
Disney also secured its market position by taking over creative competitors such as Pixar, including their patents (e.g. "Statistical hair scattering model", pdf-Datei US9905045B1 (1,57 MB)) or the "Star Wars" makers Lucasfilms.

The mouse becomes dull, the duck becomes human

182053 DE

182053 DE

Mickey Mouse quickly changed not only visually (she left her predecessor Oswald clearly behind) but also in character after the first films. While in the early films the mouse was still a cheeky, daredevil guy with sometimes boorish behaviour, she now became tamer, smoother and almost boring.

The "wild" characteristics were adopted by her in-house competitor Donald Duck (1008801 DE), whose popularity soon took over despite - or precisely because of - his coarseness of the mouse.

Methode of raising sunken vessels (GB1070600A)

Methode of raising sunken vessels (GB1070600A)

Although Micky Mouse tried to make some "image changes" over time, he often seemed colourless and boring compared to the very "human" Donald in the countless comic books that have appeared since the 1940s and that have become the main medium. Nevertheless, after more than 90 years, his fame is almost universal.

How Donald tilted a patent, or: Patent examiners should read Mickey Mouse

Raising a sunken ship with plastic ball: Carl Barks' virlliant idea in his 1949 comic strip

Raising a sunken ship by the help of plastic balls: Carl Barks' brilliant idea in his 1949 comic strip

In 1964, a Danish inventor applied for a patent in his home country for a method of lifting sunken ships, in which foam balls were pumped into the wrecks to give them a boost. The patent has also been confirmed by the DPMA ( pdf-Datei DE1247893B) and in Great Britain( pdf-Datei GB1070600A).

But the Netherlands Patent Office refused to grant it: In a comic strip by the ingenious author Carl Barks, published as early as 1949, Donald Duck had used a very similar procedure to lift a sunken yacht with the aid of table tennis balls. In view of the large circulation of the comics, the Dutch colleagues no longer saw the novelty of the invention.

Text: Dr. Jan Björn Potthast; Pictures: DPMAregister, Egmont Ehapa Verlag, DEPATISnet, Walt Disney Corp.

Last updated: 2 December 2021