According to Roy O. Disney, Walt Disney came up with the idea of putting a soundtrack into his next Mickey Mouse cartoon after watching The Jazz Singer.
Before the copyright for "Steamboat Willie" expired was set to expire in 2003, Disney lobbied the US Congress successfully for an extension of copyright protection by twenty years. Because of this law, "Steamboat Willie" will not enter the public domain until 2023.
Debuted at the Colony Theatre on Broadway, on November 18, 1928.
Felix the Cat animator Hal Walker is quoted in John Canemaker's "Felix: the Twisted Tale of the World's Most Famous Cat" saying that: "Disney put us out of business with his sound".
Is actually not the first synchronized sound cartoon. Walt Disney's rival Max Fleischer had produced a series of sound Bouncing Ball "Song Car-Tunes", which featured synchronized dialogue and music starting in 1926. The first to be produced was My Old Kentucky Home.
On its release, this cartoon was paired with the movie Gang War, but it was this cartoon, not the main movie, that movie patrons walked away talking about.
One scene that was planned but never animated was at the loading dock. After Mickey loaded the cow onto the boat, he was to have loaded the sow and her piglets as well.
This is one of six cartoons that plays in the Main Street Cinema at Disneyland.
Variety's review of "Steamboat Willie" read: "Not the first animated cartoon to be synchronized with sound effects, but the first to attract favorable attention. This one represents a high order of cartoon ingenuity, cleverly combined with sound effects. The union brought laughs galore. Giggles came so fast at the Colony they were stumbling over each other." (Variety, November 21, 1928.)