The Ingersoll Mickey Mouse
It's 1933, three years into the Great Depression, and at movie theaters across the country kids are laughing at the glickering image of a hyperactive mouse named Mickey. He was born in 1928, right before the stock market crash, and since then he's been chasing away America's blues.
As the house lights come up, parents everywhere hear the same plea from the seat beside them - a plea for one of the new watches with Mickey's picture on it.
Vast numbers of parents are caving in. The watch, manufactured under the brand name Ingersoll by the troubled Waterbury Watch Co., is becoming a smash hit. Mickey's picture is one reason, but so is the watch's price, less than $4 and lower than that of any other watch on the market. Before the year is over, nearly one million people will be wearing Mickeys. The watch will become the longest-lived, most popular character watch ever made.
It all began at the 1933 World's fair in Chicago. There, at a special exhibit, customers could see the new Mickeys being made and buy one fresh off the assembly line.
Through the following decades, there would be hundreds of variations on the original Mickey, produced here and abroad by a small army of companies. Some made a single limited-edition watch. Others, like Waterbury and, in more recent times, Seiko's Lorus brand, made Mickey a big part of their business.
The mouse has had fans in high places all his life. Movie stars of the '30's and '40's wore Mickeys. The astronaut Gene Vernan wore a Mickey in space. Emperor Hirohito wore one nearly everywhere. He became morose when one day it stopped working. Palace employees had it examined by some watch experts in Tokyo who got Mickey back in action by changing his battery.
Johnny Carson wore a Mickey Mouse watch on the "Tonight Show" in 1968, causing a surge in Mickey's populatiry. Two years later he featured the new Hamilton Pulsar watch on his program. He made his preference clear. Tossing the Pulsar over his shoulder, he proclaimed, "This will never put Mickey Mouse out of business." He was right.