Was William Moore Steamboat Willie?
Captain William Moore or Steamboat Willie? What if they’re the same?
Do you remember Steamboat Willie from those old Disney cartoons? It was the debut of Mickey Mouse from Walt Disney Studios and also one of the first cartoons with fully synchronized sound. It was produced in 1928, which was only 30 years after the Klondike Gold Rush. Prior to the Gold Rush, a man named William Moore founded the city of Skagway and paved the way for the Stampeders that would soon follow. Before coming to Skagway, Captain William Moore was a steamboat captain. This begs the question, was William Moore Steamboat Willie? Let’s do the math…
Willie is short for William
This one is obvious but it needs to be mentioned. There are certainly many Williams in the world, and some of them go by various nicknames. However, most go by the nickname Bill or Will. Willie is mostly reserved for people known to have a more carefree nature. Some would say they’re childlike. If you look at a photo of William Moore, there is no denying he sported a round baby-like face. Back during the Klondike Gold Rush, pretty much everyone had a nickname, like ‘Skookum’ Jim. The Wikipedia page for William Moore says, “His friends and rivals would give him many nicknames…” Obviously, it’s not a reach to say that many people probably called him Willie.
William Moore was CAPTAIN William Moore
Steam-powered ships side and sternwheelers were largely obsolete by 1928, yet this was the boat used by Steamboat Willie. Curious.
The first thing you will ever learn about William Moore is that he was a captain. In fact, he is most often referred to as Captain William Moore. Moore was so well known as a captain, that one of his many nicknames was “The Flying Dutchman.” What you may not know is that Captain William Moore was specifically a steamboat captain. His most prized steamboat was a sternwheeler named The Flying Dutchman.
In the cartoon Steamboat Willie, the steamboat is is a sidewheeler, which is almost identical to a sternwheeler. It was this type of vessel that Captain William Moore would eventually bring to Alaska, becoming the first person to ever navigate the Stikine River with a sternwheeler. Considering his occupation, is it really that hard to believe that some people called Moore “Steamboat Bill,” “Steamboat Will,” or maybe even “Steamboat Willie?”
Another boat built by Moore was a schooner named “The Minnie.” Fun fact: The cartoon Steamboat Willie was not only the debut for Mickey Mouse but also for MINNIE MOUSE. Moore would eventually name his youngest daughter Minnie as well. Are you starting to see the bigger picture?
The plot of Steamboat Willie
In the cartoon Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse plays Willie. He is piloting the steamboat when a big thug named Pete bullies him away and starts piloting the boat himself. Pete tries kicking Willie in the butt but Willie just escapes. However, he still falls down the stairs because Pete is far bigger and stronger. The steamboat stops at a place called “Poduck Landing” to pick up some cargo. This is where Minnie Mouse appears, trying to catch the steamship. Mickey is able to get Minnie onboard, but Pete isn’t having any of it and banishes him below deck where he has to peel potatoes and look through a porthole.
Now let’s look at the life of Captain William Moore
Here is a sidewheeler coming to Skagway when Captain Moore was a resident. Look familiar?
William Moore traveled to Skagway in 1887 in his steamship The Flying Dutchman. There was nobody living in Skagway, so he named it Mooresville, but he could have easily called it “Poduck Landing” for obvious reasons. He would settle in the valley and lay the groundwork for the Gold Rush, almost like he was piloting a ship. But then a mob of stampeders came and kicked him out of his home and took his land. These were the people that would steer Skagway to its present-day course and name it Skagway, based on the native name Skagua.
After leaving Skagway for a few years, he eventually returned and built a home. On the top of the house, he added a room built to resemble the pilot-house of a steamship. In his final days, he would peer out of his home’s porthole to look at the ships docking in Skagway Bay. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.
Moore’s Hollywood Connection
It would be easy to chalk all of this off to random coincidence, but here is the kicker… Captain William Moore’s grandson moved to Hollywood to become a cameraman just two years before Steamboat Willie was released. There is little doubt Captain William Moore’s amazing story made it to the ears of Mister Walt Disney, where it would be forever commemorated in the first Mickey Mouse cartoon.