disneyland beginnings

opening dayharbor blvd
As TV, radio, and newspapers throughout the country cover the grand opening of Disneyland's California Adventure, and huge crowds vie for tickets, it seems like a timely moment to take a trip down memory lane and visit another grand opening: July 17, 1955, when the first crowds of eager visitors made their way across the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty's castle into Disneyland.

Back in the early 1950s, Anaheim was a sleepy little town, and the area around it was nothing more than acres and acres of orange groves. Enter Walt Disney, the original Imagineer. Disney's initial idea was to build a park near his Burbank studio for his employees and their families, but those plans changed over time and his dream grew.

disneyland modelart linkletterHe bought over 160 acres of those sleepy orange groves around Anaheim and set about, in 1954, building his "Magic Kingdom." Original plans called for a 9 million dollar 45-acre park, but by opening day the park covered 160 acres and had cost 17 million. Opening day was a gala affair: The ceremonies were broadcast live on ABC with Art Linkletter and Robert (Bob) Cummings as hosts, with celebrities like Ronald Reagan, and VIPs like the Governor of California also in attendance.

giant squidmine train
In 1955 the park consisted of 5 "lands": Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. Many of the rides were not finished. Adventureland had only one ride: the Jungle Cruise. Tomorrowland had more exhibits than rides. Landmarks we are all familiar with were absent in 1955: neither the Matterhorn nor the Monorial had been built yet. There were rides and exhibits that are now long gone: the Aluminum Hall of Fame, Rocket to the Moon, a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit (a movie tie-in!), and Space Station X-1 in Tomorrowland, and stage coach rides in Frontierland. Fantasyland had rides that are still open today: King Arthur Carousel, Snow White's Adventures, Dumbo, and the kid-terrifying Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, but was missing the Autopia (1956), and It's a Small World (1966).

aerial view
The park was turning a profit by its second year of operation, and new rides were soon planned. The Viewliner train in 1957 whisked visitors between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage, and the Monorail opened in 1959.

Today Disney Inc. is global, with theme parks in Florida, Paris, and Tokyo, a cruise line in the Bahamas, a cable and network TV presence. To quote Jiminey Cricket:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.


sleeping beauty's castle
1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Openings file. Walt Disney in front of a still-unfinished Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
sleeping beauty's castle
1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Construction file. The Castle nears completion.
harbor blvd
1961, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim & Anaheim Village file. The view looking down Harbor Blvd toward Disneyland (now Interstate 5).
matterhorn

1959, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Construction file.
Matterhorn under construction.
matterhorn
1959, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Construction file.
Matterhorn nears completion.
matterhorn done
1959, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Attractions (2 of 2) file. Swiss dancers (hah!) on stage in front of the Matterhorn
flying saucers
1961, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Attractions file (2 of 2).
This very cool ride had large holes in the sieve-like floor that let through air and set the saucers spinning. Sadly, this ride only lasted about 5 years (potential litigation issues involving small children spitting out of the saucers spring to mind).
viewliner
1957, Los Angeles Examiner collection.
From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Openings file.
Walt Disney at the controls of the Viewliner, a train that ran between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.
monorail
1959, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Construction file.
Construction of the Monorail.

Credits:
All photographs used on this page are from USC's Regional History Collection. Requests to use these photos should be directed to Dace Taube, taube@usc.edu, Archivist for the Regional History Collection.

  1. 1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Openings file. Raising of the flag on opening day. California's Governor Goodwin Knight and Walt Disney are in the center foreground.
  2. 1940s?, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim & Anaheim Village file. Harbor Blvd in the 1940s looking towards where Disneyland would be located.
  3. 1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Maps, Models, Illustrations file. Early model of the park.
  4. 1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Openings file. Art Linkletter and Irene Dunne christen the Mark Twain riverboat.
  5. 1955, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Attractions file (1 of 2). Another ride that is no more: Tomorrowland's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" had an attacking giant squid (behind glass, of course).
  6. 1957, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Attractions file (2 of 2).
    This Frontierland ride had rainbow caverns and multicolored waterfalls.
  7. 1956, Los Angeles Examiner collection. From Calif-Anaheim-Disneyland-Maps, Models, Illustrations file. Aerial view of Disneyland in 1956.

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Last updated November 18, 2003 by Eileen Flick O'Shea, eoshea@usc.edu.