The Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts were a series of 26 silent cartoons Walt and colleague Ub Iwerks made between 1927 and 1928 for Charles Mintz of the Winkler Film Corporation, who contracted with Universal for distribution rights. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit became Walt’s first major hit and was the first character to generate merchandise: a candy bar, a pin-back button, and a stencil set.
In the spring of 1928, Walt traveled to New York City seeking to negotiate more favorable contract terms with Mintz. But with the world on the brink of an economic collapse, Mintz instead pressed Disney for a 20 percent pay cut. Walt sent Roy this telegram on March 13, 1928, urging his older, business-minded brother not to worry over their strained partnership with Mintz. Soon, however, Walt would quit his job with Mintz, in the process losing the popular character he had created—Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But, as legend has it, on the long train ride back to California, he hatched an idea to come up with a new, even-better character, and later that year, Walt and Ub released Steamboat Willie—introducing the world to an effervescent little fellow named Mickey Mouse. The rest, shall we say, is history.