This week in history we’ll take a look at some of the pivotal events both at home and abroad that have had an immense impact on our cultural development. Both events are iconic in pop culture history and are recognizable nationally and internationally.
On Oct. 16, 1793, 227 years ago, Marie Antoinette was beheaded in Paris at the age of 37.
Quite possibly the most iconic monarch to ever sit on the French throne, Marie Antoinette was born in Vienna, Austria to Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. As the 15th child of their marriage, Marie was bred to marry into another European royal family to solidify her country’s relations to that of her spouse’s. At the age of 14, Marie Antionette was sent to France to marry Louis-Auguste, the heir to the French throne. When King Louis XV died, Louis-Auguste succeeded the throne as Louis XVI, in turn making Marie Antionette the queen of France at 19 years old.
The marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI was not exactly a perfect match. Louis XVI was an introvert who enjoyed reading and making keys, while Marie Antionette was a social butterfly who adored lavish parties with champagne, gambling and excessive costumes. This appetite for the finer things, as well as fine French pastries, would get her in trouble with the people of France.
With the French economy in shambles, peasants who could barely afford to feed their families resented the queen’s extravagance on their tax dollars. Rumors circulated through Paris that when Marie Antionette heard the peasants did not have enough bread to eat, she replied, “Let them eat cake.”
Historians have since debunked this myth, agreeing that while she was oblivious to the suffering of the French people, she would have never made such a heartless comment. Nevertheless, this phrase is synonymous with the queen’s legacy to this day.
The monarchy was overthrown during the French Revolution, sending the royal family fleeing for the queen’s homeland of Austria. They were caught by the revolutionary army and were condemned for treason by the new Republic of France. Marie Antionette met her fate at the guillotines of Paris, as one of the many aristocrats killed during the Reign of Terror. The nation of France would never be the same.
Also on Oct. 16, but in 1923, 97 years ago, the Walt Disney Company was founded in Hollywood, Calif.
Originally called the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt and Roy Disney moved to Los Angeles following the bankruptcy of Walt’s first company, the Laugh-O-Gram studio in Kansas City. The studio first made small profits on a cartoon series based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The studio did not gain notoriety, however, until 1928’s “Steamboat Willie” was introduced, bringing Mickey Mouse into the hearts of households nationwide.
The success of Mickey Mouse led Disney to produce Hollywood’s first ever full-length animated film, titled “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” It was a complete gamble, with the entire company’s survival depending on its success. While the film went 400% over budget, its immense popularity and box office success enshrined the Walt Disney Company’s place in American pop culture.
Almost 100 years after its founding, the Walt Disney Company is an economic powerhouse, also owning ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. Who would have guessed that such a staple in entertainment and animation all began with two brothers and a mouse?