Disneyland: Celebrating 60 years since Walt’s theme park Grand Opening

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. … Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
Walt Disney

Mickey, Donald, Goofy and other Disney characters stand in line facing crowd at Disneyland, in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle

Mickey and friends in Disneyland, 2009. Photo by Loren Javier, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JULY 17: Sixty years ago today, the opening of Walt Disney’s famed amusement park seemed to confirm the nightmare stockholders had anticipated. After an astronomical investment, Walt opened his “Disneyland”—then was met with more than double the number of guests given preview tickets (many passes were counterfeit). On the morning of July 17, 1955, disaster seemed imminent.

Yet despite the initial ride breakdowns, plumber’s strikes and unfinished rides, America’s hunger for the possibilities of Disneyland was insatiable. Plopped into a 160-acre orange grove in California, Disneyland had a less-than-optimal Opening Day but an extremely successful first year. It’s estimated that 90 million viewers watched the initial coverage on TV; more than 3.5 million guests flooded Disneyland’s gates within its first year. (View the original ABC coverage of Opening Day at Disneyland, here.)

Black-and-white of man at center holding blueprints, surrounded by other men looking at prints, all in suits

Walt Disney shows plans for Disneyland’s layout to Orange County officials. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How does Disney inspire you? Columnist Suzy Farbman offers Disney quotes that spark the entrepreneur—and dreamer—in all of us.

Then, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm wrote about a multi-generational spiritual pilgrimage to Walt’s “other” major investment: Disney World in Florida.

In 1955, Walt Disney greeted press and invited guests on July 17, although it wasn’t until the following day—July 18—that the park opened to the public. Admission to Disney’s $17 million investment cost just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children under 12, with additional charges for specific rides or amusements. (Learn more from History.com.)

Walt’s vision for a place where parents and children could have fun together had been completed in a single year—just as promised. It would be the first and only Disney park personally dedicated by Walt Disney, welcoming its 1 millionth visitor within two months after opening. (View black-and-white photos of early Disneyland here.)

Did you know? Disneyland Park originally featured five themed “lands:” Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA.

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, spent years working as a commercial artist before producing animated cartoons. Ever the entrepreneur, Disney would strive throughout his career to improve the aesthetic and technical quality of his films and productions. In 1928, Steamboat Willy was the first animated film to use sound. In 1955, Disneyland presented an entirely new model for amusement parks. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, Disneyland welcomes more than 14 million visitors per year.

IN THE NEWS: DISNEYLAND AT 60, MAGIC IN SHANGHAI

Disneyland kicked off its Diamond Celebration on May 22, but 60th-birthday events continue for an entire year. (Get the scoop from ABC News.) New shows, limited-time merchandise and additions to current attractions are just a few of the surprises Disney has in store this year. (LA Times reports.) To date, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world, claiming approximately 700 million visitors since Opening Day. Next year, the magic of Disney will spread to Shanghai, where a themed attraction will open in 2016.

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