Dave Smith, Founder of Walt Disney Archives, Dies at 78

Dave Smith - Getty - H 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney Animation

During his time at Disney, Smith penned seven books about the studio and wrote columns in fan magazines and websites.

Dave Smith, the first-ever archivist at Disney and the founder of the Walt Disney Archives, died Friday in Burbank. He was 78.

Over a 40-year career, Smith created and grew a department for preserving Disney's films, television projects, theme parks and more in addition to penning several books on Disney history and writing magazine columns. Among Smith's publications are Disney: The First 100 Years, Disney A to Z, Disney Trivia From the Vault, the four Ultimate Disney Trivia books and The Quotable Walt Disney.

“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Dave Smith’s passing,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “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.”

Born in Pasadena to librarian and educator parents, Smith graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in history and, later, a master's degree in library science. Smith worked in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, interned at the Library of Congress and worked at the Research Library at UCLA before he was hired by Roy O. Disney, Walt's brother and The Walt Disney Company co-founder. His first task at Disney? To preserve the items in the late Walt's office. 

During his time at Disney, Smith grew the department, joined the Society of California Archivists, served as the executive director of the Manuscript Society for 21 years and penned seven Disney books. He also wrote columns for Disney fan magazines and websites, where he had a column called "Ask Dave."

In 2007, Smith was honored with the Disney Legend Award. After retiring in 2010, he worked as a consultant for the company for nine years as chief archivist emeritus.