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Remembering Dave Smith

Thomas Smith

by , Editorial Content Director, Disney Experiences

Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith passed away in Burbank, California, on February 15, 2019. He was 78. Dave dedicated his four-decade career at The Walt Disney Company to preserving Disney’s precious treasures from film, television, theme parks, and beyond. Named a Disney Legend in 2007, Dave was beloved by fans around the world for his wide knowledge of the Company’s rich history, which he shared in books and through his popular magazine column “Ask Dave.”

“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Dave Smith’s passing,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. “He was the unsung hero of Disney’s history who, as our first archivist, spent 40 years rescuing countless documents and artifacts from obscurity, investing endless hours restoring and preserving these priceless pieces of our legacy, and putting them in context to tell our story. Dave was a true Disney Legend, and we are indebted to him for building such an enduring, tangible connection to our past that continues to inspire our future.”

Dave Smith at Disneyland Paris

Dave was hired in 1970 by Walt’s brother—and The Walt Disney Company co-founder—Roy O. Disney, and his first responsibility was cataloguing every item inside Walt’s office suite, which had been left untouched after Walt’s passing four years prior. Thanks to Dave’s meticulously detailed notes and records, the Archives was able to restore the suite in 2015, and today Disney employees are able to visit and draw inspiration from this remarkable space. During his time as Disney’s Chief Archivist, Dave grew the Archives from a simple one-person department to a model among corpo­rate archives. He was regarded by fans and historians as the final authority on matters of Disney history, and was an active member of the Society of California Archivists. He served from 1980 to 2001 as Executive Director of the Manuscript Society, an international association of collectors, dealers, librarians, archivists, and others interested in manuscript material.

Born and raised in Pasadena, California, the child of librarians and educators, Dave earned a B.A. in history and a Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Before coming to Disney, he gained library and archives experience working in the Manuscript Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, interning at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and serving on the staff of the Research Library at U.C.L.A.

Dave wrote extensively about Disney history, with regular columns in Disney fan publications and websites, as well as authoring, co-authoring, and editing numerous articles and books on Disney history, including the official Disney encyclopedia Disney A to Z, Disney: The First 100 Years, The Quotable Walt Disney, Disney Trivia from the Vault, and The Ultimate Disney Trivia Books 1, 2, 3, and 4.

In October 2007, Dave was honored with the prestigious Disney Legend Award. A resident of Burbank, California, Dave retired in 2010 after his 40th anniversary with The Walt Disney Company and continued working for the next nine years as a consultant for the Company, with the title of Chief Archivist Emeritus.

Our condolences and thoughts go out to his family and friends at this time.


  • Disney History MUST be preserved! Thank-you Dave! RIP

  • This is very sad news. Mr. Smith was a true Disney Legend–and deservedly so! I used to love reading his articles in the old Disney magazines. His knowledge of everything Disney was unrivaled.

    I hope he is happily discussing Disney trivia with Walt and Roy somewhere.

  • RIP Dave. Disney and I will miss you.

  • I have read all of Dave’s books and his “Ask Dave” posts on the D23 website. His knowledge of all things Disney was amazing. He even answered some of my questions in his Disney Trivia books. We all will truly miss him. RIP Dave.

  • Sorry to hear about Dave’s passing. I have a Tinker Bell doll from 1955. I wonder if I brought it to Disneyland with me if someone could take a look at it? Maybe they would like it for their museum???

  • When I got my hands on a 1971 issue of Life magazine (featuring the opening of WDW) and sent it to Dave, he was nice enough to scribble a short anecdote for me and send it back.
    One of my most treasured bits of Disney memorabilia.
    I’ll always remember the kindness he showed and his willingness to share the history he loved.
    Thanks Dave. RIP sir.

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