Olsen’s Imported Novelties & Souvenirs
“World’s Largest Collection of Keychains”
Jack Olsen “The Merchant Prince”
Jack Olsen was born in 1923 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His family moved to California three years after his birth. After attending high school, Jack majored in mathematics at Penn State College. During World War II, he received two Presidential citations and two Purple Hearts in Europe’s 78th Infantry Division. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles. There, Jack managed art supply stores and galleries, and owned a ceramics manufacturing firm. Throughout his entire life, he enjoyed painting oils and watercolors as well as other artistic media.
Early 1955, Jack was hired at the Walt Disney Studios as a background artist. Not long after joining the company, he was moved to be the manager of the Studio operated stores in Disneyland. In 1960 he was transferred again to the manager of Product and Project Design and Development, and 1964 director of Merchandising Division. He held that position until 1970 when he relocated to Florida to join the contribution for the opening and operation of Walt Disney World as the Vice President of Merchandising.
Olsen insisted that Disney Parks have distinct merchandise from what could be found in the normal gift shops. He went so far to dumpster dive for discarded Walt Disney Animation cells. Trimmed, and placed in a cardboard matte, they were sold for around a dollar each.
Author David Koenig described Jack as, “a heavy-set old-timer, who usually dressed in shorts and a golf shirt and constantly preached that his stores were not factories. He wanted them operated first and foremost as part of the show, rather than designed and operated to maximize profit. Even though souvenirs imprinted with Mickey Mouse and other characters were the best-selling merchandise in the park, none were sold in Adventureland, Frontierland, or Liberty Square. Everything had to be themed to the period.”
His nephew Scott Olsen posted online that, ” [Jack’s] house and garage in Santa Ana [California] were full of Disney merchandise. He wasn’t a “collector,” but rather, I believe it was more due to bringing the job home with him. There was a local importer in Laguna Beach who used to literally give us boxes of stuff every year. Most were non-Disney items.”
Alongside his window on Main Street, Jack actually had another tribute in Walt Disney World. The nighttime place was an opening day location at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (Downtown Disney) in 1975. Specializing in seafood dishes, Cap’n Jack’s Oyster Bar was a reference to Jack Olsen’s love of fishing and sailing. In the early 2000s, it became an official restaurant with an expanded menu with a larger variety of selections and kid friendly options. It was one of the of the longest surviving Disney restaurant in that area, but unfortunately could not compete with more recent restaurants such as the Rainforest Cafe. It operated until August 2014 and was removed for the new version of Downtown Disney, Disney Springs. Jack’s name is still remembered with the same spirit as the original, in the dockside Cap’n Jack’s Bar.
Jack retired from the Walt Disney Company in ill heath in 1977 , and passed away April 1980. He was inducted into the Disney Legends project in 2005.
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