Mickey Mouse, icon of an animation empire, celebrates 90th birthday

Mickey Mouse, the brainchild of cartoonist Walt Disney that eventually came to symbolize a global entertainment empire, is celebrating his 90th birthday.

Brainchild of cartoonist Walt Disney became global entertainment symbol

Mickey Mouse, seen with Minnie Mouse at Disneyland Paris, is celebrating 90 years as an animation icon. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

It was the Roaring '20s. Calvin Coolidge was in the White House, the New York Yankees had just won their third World Series title and Mickey Mouse made his debut on the silver screen.

On Sunday, Mickey Mouse, the brainchild of cartoonist Walt Disney that eventually came to symbolize a global entertainment empire, celebrates his 90th birthday.

The iconic rodent, whose easily recognizable silhouette consists simply of a big circle and two little ones for ears, launched his celluloid career in Steamboat Willie, at New York's Colony Theatre on Nov. 18, 1928.

In the eight-minute-long, black-and-white cartoon, Mickey pilots a steamboat and entertains his passenger, Minnie Mouse, by making musical instruments out of the menagerie on board.

Mickey Mouse, whom the Walt Disney Co calls its global ambassador, also starred in Disney's critically acclaimed 1942 animated film Fantasia, and would go on to launch a franchise with The Mickey Mouse Club, the 1950s television series that was a favourite of American baby boom kids.

His image appeared on T-shirts, lunch boxes and watches, and the telltale mouse ears are still worn by people visiting Disney theme parks today.

To mark his birthday, Disney opened a 16,000-square-foot art exhibition in Manhattan, called "Mickey: The True Original Exhibition," featuring original art, larger-than-life photo ops and, of course, commemorative merchandise.

Disney's sprawling empire continues to grow, with details announced Saturday of the new "Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge" lands, opening in 2019 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney World in Orlando, Fla. 

The two signature attractions of the "lands" now under construction will be "Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run," in which guests can take the controls in three different roles, and "Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance," offering an "epic battle" between the First Order and the Resistance. The attractions are to open in 2019.

With files from the Associated Press