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Disneyland Opens

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Picture of animator Walt Disney in front of the Magic Kingdom at Disneyland.

American animator and film studio founder Walt Disney sits on a grassy lawn with his grandson, in front of the Magic Kingdom's castle at Disneyland, Anaheim, California. (1955)

(Photo by Gene Lester/Getty Images)
Walt Disney drives a red bumper car with his daughter and grandson as passengers at Disneyland theme park

Walt Disney drives a red bumper car with his daughter and grandson as passengers at Disneyland theme park.

Gene Lester/Archive Photos/Getty Images

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened for a few thousand specially invited visitors; the following day, Disneyland officially opened to the public. Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California on what used to be a 160-acre orange orchard, cost $17 million to build. The original park included Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

 

Walt Disney's Vision for Disneyland

When they were little, Walt Disney would take his two young daughters, Diane and Sharon, to play at the carousel at Griffith Park in Los Angeles every Sunday. While his daughters enjoyed their repeated rides, Disney sat on park benches with the other parents who had nothing to do but watch. It was on these Sunday excursions that Walt Disney began to dream of an activity park that had things for both children and parents to do.

At first, Disney envisioned an eight-acre park which would be located near his Burbank studios and be called, "Mickey Mouse Park." However, as Disney began to plan themed areas, he quickly realized that eight-acres would be way too small for his vision.

Although World War II and other projects put Disney's theme park on the back burner for many years, Disney continued to dream about his future park. In 1953, Walt Disney was finally ready to start on what would become known as Disneyland.

 

Finding a Location for Disneyland

The first part of the project was to find a location. Disney hired the Stanford Research Institute to find an appropriate location that consisted of at least 100-acres, was located near Los Angeles, and could be reached by a freeway. The company found for Disney a 160-acre orange orchard in Anaheim, California.

 

Financing a Place of Dreams

Next came finding funding. While Walt Disney put up much of his own money to make his dream a reality, he didn't have enough personal money to complete the project. Disney then contacted financiers to help. But however much Walt Disney was enthralled with the theme park idea, the financiers he approached were not.

Many of the financiers could not envision the monetary rewards of a place of dreams. To gain financial support for his project, Disney turned to the new medium of television. Disney made a plan with ABC: ABC would help finance the park if Disney would produce a television show on their channel. The program Walt created was called "Disneyland" and showed previews of the different themed areas in the new, upcoming park.

 

Building Disneyland

On July 21, 1954, construction on the park began. It was a momentous undertaking to build Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland in only one year. The total cost of building Disneyland would be $17 million.

 

Opening Day

On July 17, 1955, 6,000 by-invitation-only guests were invited for a special preview of Disneyland before it opened to the public the following day. Unfortunately, 22,000 extra people arrived with counterfeit tickets.

Besides the huge numbers of extra people on this first day, many other things went wrong. Included in the problems were a heat wave that made the temperature unusually and unbearably hot, a plumber's strike meant only a few of the water fountains were functional, women's shoes sunk into still soft asphalt which had been laid the night before, and a gas leak caused several of the themed areas to be closed temporarily.

Despite these initial setbacks, Disneyland opened to the public on July 18, 1955, with an entrance fee of $1. Over the decades, Disneyland has added attractions and opened the imaginations of millions of children.

What was true when Walt Disney stated it during the opening ceremonies in 1955 still stands true today: "To all who come to this happy place - welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. 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. Thank you."

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