QUICK ANSWER: If Walt Disney were still alive today, his net worth would be an estimated $40 billion. Read the calculations below.
Walt Elias Disney is known as the co-founder of the Walt Disney Company—originally named as Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio—in 1923, along with his brother Roy O. Disney. As a pioneer of the US animation industry, Disney has already fond of drawing since he was a child. The interest initially came when he was asked to draw a horse by his retired neighborhood doctor and paid for it.
During his time, Disney is known as one of the richest in the country. Often, people wonder how rich he would be if he were supposedly alive by now. To answer that question, let’s do some simple calculations and see how rich he potentially could be.
Walt Disney’s net worth today
Keep in mind that this estimation of Walt Disney’s wealth, if he were to live in this era, is merely a rough approximation and the primary goal of this article is to entertain rather than giving an exact number.
Walt Disney died in 1966. His share into Disney company before he died was to be believed at the range of $20 million, or about 333,000 worth of share at the time. If we take into consideration the six stock splits that happened since that time, Walt Disney would’ve held a total of, give and take, 130 million shares today.
As of February 2020, the current value of The Walt Disney Company is about $141 per share. 130 million times $141 equals $18,33 billion, not to mention the dividends Disney been paid to over the years.
Holding 130 million shares in 2019 will give you about $114.4 million worth of dividend in January 2020, when the last dividend from Disney Company was paid. Disney Company pays a dividend to its shareholders on a semi-annual basis (twice a year). Disney’s stock has also risen four times the amount of 10 years ago, so we can expect to see some increase in the future as well.
With those dividends, Walt Disney could reinvest his revenue to buy more stocks and gained more dividends, while also taking advantage of the shares split that had happened.
Note that none of the calculations above includes Walt Disney ventures outside the Disney company. Disney also did some real estate, bonds, and also was investing in other companies’ stock.
With all of those above combined, Disney’s net worth today is estimated to be around 40 billion dollars.
To put this into perspective, Bill Gates has a net worth of $112.8 billion. Microsoft’s total assets were summed up to be $286.5 billion by the end of 2019, according to their press release. This means that Bill Gates’s net worth is equal to 39 percent of Microsoft’s total assets.
Meanwhile, Disney Company’s total assets are $193.9 billion in 2019. $193.9 billion times 39 percent is $75 billion! Just 1 billion dollars shy of the Facebook founder’s net worth, Mark Zuckerberg’s. With that said, this kind of estimation is too arbitrary, not to mention the figure of $75 billion is way too high compared to our own approximation. At least, we can get an idea of how rich Walt Elias Disney potentially would be if he were to live until today.
How did Disney become so rich?
Disney’s early life and struggles
Born in December 1901, as a child, Disney practiced drawing by copying the cartoons on a newspaper drawn by Ryan Walker, a renowned cartoonist at the time.
Apart from cartoons, Disney’s passion for film and comedy began when he and his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There, he was introduced to the world of motion pictures and vaudeville—a form of comedy that relies on the comical situation disregarding moral or psychological intentions.
During his time in high school, Disney acted as the cartoonist of the school newspaper. When he was not in school, he further practiced his drawing by taking an art course at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Even during World War I, in which Disney managed to participate after forging his date of birth, Disney still drew cartoons on the side and had his work published by the army newspaper.
After the war ended, Disney returned to Kansas City in 1919. He then worked at multiple art studios. Disney met his soon-to-be close friend, Ub Iwerks, during this period.
It wasn’t until he works for Kansas City Film Ad Company that he learned to animate cartoons using the old-school cutout animation technique. From there, he began to experiment animation using the cartoon characters he draws, using the more efficient cel technique rather than the cutout.
Eventually, Disney managed to create a full product animation with his co-workers. He sold the short animated cartoon, titled “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”, to a local theater in Kansas. The commercial success of the animation led Disney to found a studio called Laugh-O-Gram Studio in May 1921, bringing his former co-workers alongside him. The company managed to produce a 12-minute film of “Alice’s Wonderland”, combining animation with live-action act, before going into bankruptcy before the film hit the theater.
Disney continued his journey by moving to Hollywood in 1923, in an effort to become a live-action film director. He uses his previous work, Alice’s Wonderland, as a portfolio for prospective film distributors. Ultimately, he succeeded to sell Alice’s Wonderland’s rights to film distributor Margaret J. Winkler, who asked Disney to create a new cartoon series based on the work. Later, Disney along with his brother Roy created the Disney Brothers Studio—the pioneer of The Walt Disney Company—to produce the series.
The Alice series was a success and it ran until July 1927. Disney ended the series because he was too tired mixing live-action and cartoons, wanted to go full cartoon animation instead. After the series ended, Disney and his longtime friend Iwerks created the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
The character soon would be the base main character for short films released by Universal Pictures every two weeks. However, after a feud with his producer regarding the production budget reduction, among other things, Disney stopped the Oswald cartoons production and cut ties with Winkler, his distributor. Disney lost most of his studio staff, except Iwerks, while also lost the right to produce Oswald animation since Oswald intellectual property belonging to Universal Pictures.
Mickey Mouse and the rise of The Walt Disney Studio
Since Disney lost Oswald, he needs a new main character for the animation. Disney and Iwerks then developed Mickey Mouse, inspired by Disney’s own pet mouse from his Laugh-O-Gram studio days. After failing to find a distributor with two short films starring Mickey Mouse, Disney managed to sign a contract with Pat Powers, a former executive of Universal to produce “Steamboat Willie” in 1928.
After numerous success with animated shorts with Mickey Mouse as the main character, Disney had a falling out with his distributor Pat Powers and his lead animator as well as close friend, Ub Iwerks. Powers and Iwerks decided to cut partnership with Disney in 1930. In the same year, Iwerks opened his own studio with financial banking from Powers.
Disney studio initially struggled with the departure of Iwerks. However, it doesn’t take long for Disney to recover. After Walt Disney hired new, talented animators to work for him, Disney studio managed to produce “Flowers and Trees”, a critical and commercial success. It was the first commercial film produced in full-color using the Technicolor process.
Disney was known as a man who embraces new ideas & innovations and tries to always take the opportunity to make his animation works go to the next level. With “The Three & Little Pigs”, Disney succeeded in combining beautiful animation and a compelling story. The film success led Disney to invest more resources for the ‘story department’, tasked to create the plots for future Disney’s films.
In 1934, Disney even took the leap by creating feature-length cartoon films instead of shorts, believing the former would be more profitable. The first campaign of feature-length films Walt Disney Studio created began with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, which took four years to produce. While many believed that the project would cost them financial catastrophe—some even called it “Disney’s Folly”, Walt Disney still continue along with the production. The film eventually went way over budget—totaling $1.5 million—but still managed to be finished.
Snow White was released in December 1937. The film ingrained itself as the most commercially successful motion picture up to that date. Seeing the Snow White success, Disney studios further produce feature-length film starting with “Pinocchio” and later “Fantasia” in 1938, with both eventually premiered in 1940. However, since the release of the film coincided with the beginning era of World War II, both movies did poorly, forcing the company to be drowned in debt.
The financial crisis aroused various internal conflicts within the studio, including the 1941 animators’ strike lasting for five weeks. Ultimately, Disney studio had to release several key animators. Despite this, the studio still able to release an hour film of “Dumbo” in 1941, which was both critically and commercially well-received.
Huge debt before further successes
Disney needed to change his production approach during World War II, as feature-length films are pretty risky to create at the time. Cooperating with the military, Disney studio produced instruction films for them. He also created several propaganda animations to promote support for US war effort—the most well-known of such animations is “Der Fuehrer’s Face” shorts starring Donald Duck.
Even with all of the military films Disney made, the films only barely enough to cover costs and Disney studio still in a huge debt worth $4 million with the Bank of America. This made the future of the company unclear. Nonetheless, understanding that Disney’s poor performance was due to war, the bank’s chairman still believed in Disney studio’s production and willing to give them time.
Disney brothers made various efforts to made the company stand tall again. For instance, thanks to the suggestion of Disney’s brother Roy, Disney went back to his root and produce a mix of live-action and cartoon short film series, titled “True-Life Adventures”.
Eventually, in early 1950, after eight years of absence of feature-length films, Disney studio created and released “Cinderella”. Budgeting $2.2 million, the film managed to return $8 million in its first year. The film successes led to further production of “Alice in Wonderland” in 1951 and “Peter Pan” in 1953. Walt Disney was less involved in the creation of these films and focused more on other things such as live-action films and building theme parks.
After serious consideration, Disney opened Disneyland theme park in July 1955 with his own money instead of the studio’s money, preventing shareholders’ backlash. The park was a huge success, attracting 3.6 million guests in its first year.
Disney also took advantage of television when it was starting to be widely used in the 50s. In 1954, he made a deal with ABC to broadcast “Walt Disney’s Disneyland”—cartoons, live-actions, and other materials from the studio put together into an anthology. The show’s rating was outstanding, earning a 50% share of audiences across the US. This marks the beginning of Disney’s involvement with television in the future.
Disney also made a record label named “Disneyland Records”, after seeing how well-received a show’s theme song he produced. Disney ventures didn’t stop there. He also created exhibits, ski resorts, and another theme park with golf courses & hotels.
With that many enterprises, Disney’s managed to be not only the pioneer of the animation industry but also one of the most successful businessmen in the history of America.