Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78.
Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the company after his retirement.
“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,” said Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger. “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.”
Smith was hired in 1970 by Walt Disney’s brother, Roy O. Disney. His first job was to catalogue every item in Walt Disney’s executive suite at the Burbank studio, a space that had been left untouched after Walt Disney’s death in December 1966. Smith’s work allowed the company to recreate Walt’s office for an installation built in 2015 to help inspire Disney’s contemporary workforce.
Smith was a prolific author of books about Walt Disney Co., including the company’s official encyclopedia “Disney A to Z.” Other titles included “Disney: The First 100 Years,” “The Quotable Walt Disney,” “Disney Trivia from the Vault” and four volumes of “The Ultimate Disney Trivia Books.”
Born and raised in Pasadena, Smith earned a B.A. in history and master’s degree in library science from the University of California at Berkeley. Before joining Disney he worked in the research library at UCLA and at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. He also interned at the Library of Congress.
From 1980 to 2001, Smith served as executive director of the Manuscript Society.