Once upon a time, Marine Reserve-run Toys for Tots got help from the animator and businessman who created some of the most iconic children’s films of the 20th century.

More than seven decades ago, Walt Disney and his studio designed the original logo for Toys for Tots, an initiative that helps Santa deliver toys to children in low-income families, according to a Wednesday Disney press release about its annual Toys for Tots drive.

As Toys for Tots enters its 75th year, the iconic train image that Disney designed is still part of the logo.

Marine reservist Maj. Bill Hendricks had the idea for Toys for Tots in 1947 after his wife, Diane, told him she wanted to donate handcrafted dolls to an agency that would distribute them to children in need, according to the Toys for Tots website. No such agency existed.

With help from the Marines in his Reserve unit in Los Angeles, Hendricks set out to change that. In its first year, the program distributed 5,000 toys to economically disadvantaged children.

It so happened that Hendricks’ civilian job was as director of public relations at Warner Bros. Studios. Because the major regularly hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities, Walt Disney was a part of Hendrick’s social world.

As a favor to his friend, Disney and his studio artists designed the original poster for Toys for Tots.

A 1948 artistic poster for Toys for Tots depicts a beaming Santa Claus carrying a sack of toys. In front of him, a toy train bears the words "Toys for Tots" in all caps. It reads "United States Marine Reserve" at the bottom of the poster.

The poster features a beaming Santa Claus — whose considerable belly is secured with a belt bearing an eagle, globe and anchor — carrying a sack of toys. In front of Claus runs a three-car miniature train in which “Toys for Tots” is inscribed.

A version of that train still appears in the program’s logo today.

The train logo is reminiscent of both toys — in the mid-century, toy trains were one of the most popular gifts for boys — and a distribution effort.

And those are the two key components of what Toys for Tots does: Marines and volunteers across the country collect donated toys, sort and wrap them, and then distribute them to children in need.

Since its founding seven and a half decades ago, Toys for Tots has distributed nearly 630 million toys to more than 280 million children, according to the Disney press release.

After designing the logo, Walt Disney continued to support Toys for Tots by participating in public service advertising for the organization, according to Disney spokesman Cappy Surette, a retired Navy captain.

And the company Disney founded has partnered with Toys for Tots throughout the decades, running annual toy drives through its stores, resorts and online.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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