July 17, 1955 - Disneyland, the brainchild of Walt Disney, whose father had worked at previous world's fairs and inspired his son to build the iconic Magic Castle and other exhibits, opens in Anaheim, California, with the backing of the new television network, ABC. Disneyland California remains today as one of the greatest theme park capitals of the world and some say is second only to his second park built some years later on the other side of the country, Disney World Florida. Disney World was additionally inspired by the subsequent New York World's Fair of 1964-5, with the original intention by Walt Disney to build the second park on the Flushing Meadows site of that event.
Known today as the happiest place on earth and part of the culture of the last several generations who probably can't imagine a time when Disneyland did not exist. The park had been a dream of Walt Disney for years, inspired by the stories that his father told about experiences working for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, where he had been a carpenter and buoyed by his success at creating vibrant characters for his films. His first thought was to build the park next to his studio, drawing plans for an idea for Mickey Mouse Park in 1948, but the site was too small. So, in 1953, he bought a one hundred and sixty acre site in Anaheim, with construction beginning on July 16, 1954.
Financing was difficult. Outside a few attractions around the world that inspired him, like Tivoli Gardens, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, plus other World's Fairs, which had been a paused concept since the start of World War II, there was nothing to suggest a business plan and what success would look like. World's Fairs were noted public private partnerships that often times did not make profits in the traditional sense. So Disney got creative with a partnership between fledgling television network ABC, broadcasting his show Disneyland on the network in exchange for financing for the park. That partnership continued with various ownership stakes between ABC and Disney. Eventually, the Disney Corporation would buy ABC in the 1990s.
Construction went quickly at a cost that seems minimal today, $17 million dollars. The park would open one year and one day later, on July 17, 1955, with fanfare and invited guests that swelled to twenty-eight thousand, some with counterfeit tickets. There were twenty attractions, including the traditional lands of Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland plus one of Disney's favorite attractions, the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad which circled the park. The opening was telecast live with future President Ronald Reagan in attendance. Attendance grew slowly compared to later years, with one million coming through the gates in 1955. Original pricing included a small fee to enter plus additional fees through a purchased ticket booklet for the attractions. This changed in 1981 when a single entrance ticket allowed entrance to almost all attractions.
Disneyland Through the Years
Attendance grew rapidly. In the park's second year, four million people came. By 1970, the park was attracting ten million people per year. In 2016, 17.94 million people attended the park, which now included additional attractions.
Expansion of Disneyland began in earnest in the late 1990's. What had been a single park with the single Disneyland Hotel would morph into a resort. By 2001, the California Adventure Park was added on a seventy-two acre site next door. Downtown Disney, the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel were added through construction or purchase on nearby land to augment the expanding resort. Today, a new area, Star Wars Land, is being built with an opening scheduled for 2019.
Disney Expansion Around the World
Three years after Disneyland opened, Walt Disney began investigating sites to build a second park. There were rumours abounding that considering his participation in four major exhibits at the New York World's Fair in 1964-5, that he would locate his East Coast park in Flushing Meadows, but that did not come to pass and may have, at best, only been in the rumor stage. By 1963, Walt Disney investigated the purchase of over five thousand acres in central Florida. He would purchase over thirty thousand acres between 1964 and October 1965. On May 12, 1967, construction began on Walt Disney World. It would open on October 1, 1971, costing $400 million dollars. 20,395,000 people visited Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom theme park, in 2016.
Other Disney Parks
EPCOT, Orlando, Florida - October 1, 1982. Three hundred acres with World Showcase and Future World theme. Attendance 2016, 11.712 million.
Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo, Japan - April 15, 1983. One hundred and fifteen acres. Attendance 2016, 16.54 million.
Disney-MGM Movie Studio Theme Park (now known as Disney's Hollywood Studios), Orlando, Florida - May 1, 1989. One hundred thirty-five acres. Attendance 2016, 10.776 million.
Disneyland Paris, Paris, France - April 12, 1992. Four thousand eight hundred acres. Attendance 2016, 13.4 million. Now includes second theme park, Walt Disney Studios, open March 16, 2002. Attendance 2016, 4.97 million.
Disney's Animal Kingdom, Orlando, Florida - April 22, 1998. Five hundred eighty acres. Attendance 2016, 10.844 million.
Disney California Adventure Park, Anaheim, California - February 8, 2001. Seventy-two acres. Attendance 9.295 million in 2016.
Tokyo DisneySea, Tokyo, Japan - September 4, 2001. One hundred and seventy-six acres. Attendance 2016, 11 million.
Hong Kong Disneyland, Hong Kong - September 12, 2005. Seventy-eight acres. Attendance 2016, 6.1 million.
Shanghai Disneyland, Shanghai, China - June 16, 2016. Nine hundred sixty-three acres (entire resort). Attendance 2016, 5.6 million.
Image above: Sign at the entrance to Disneyland in California, 1980-2005, Carol Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress. Image below: Walt Disney showing plans to Orange County officials, 1954, Orange County Archives via Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: Wikipedia Commons; Disney.com.
History Photo Bomb
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Eisenhower, and
General Patton in Castelvetrano, Sicily, December 8, 1943. By 1952, Eisenhower would become president. Courtesy National Archives.
Korean War bombing raid. Courtesy National Archives.
Astronaut John Glenn and others around capsule, October 1958.
America's Best History where we take a look
at the timeline of American History and the historic sites and national parks that hold that history within their lands.
Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com & its licensors.