Where’s Walt? In your nightmares! How’s this for a weird publicity photo:
In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, concern spread about the possibility of chemical attacks on mainland America. In January of 1942, T.W. Smith, Jr., the owner of the Sun Rubber Company, and designer Dietrich Rempel drew up plans for a Mickey Mouse gas mask for children, which Walt is seen presenting in the photo above. The original caption reads:
Animator Walt Disney, second from left, hands over his sketch of a Mickey Mouse gas mask to Maj. Gen. William Porter, right, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 8, 1942. Civilian defense and chemical warfare officers plan to produce the design intended to encourage children to use their mask readily for protection during World War II. The man at left is not identified.
Maj. Gen. Porter was, at that time, the head of the Chemical Warfare Service. Judging from this post on the esteemed Toons At War blog, the unnamed man on the left is either Colonel George Fisher or Colonel Maurice Barker.
The Mickey Mouse gas mask actually did go into active production until rubber eventually began to be diverted away for other wartime purposes. There were no chemical weapon attacks on America during the war.
Few examples of the Mickey masks are known to exist today; aside from a few masks in various military museums and one partial mask in the Disney archives, little evidence remains of this bizarre footnote to Disney merchandising history.