This weekend, castmembers at Disneyland, in their burgundy, pinstriped or Main Street period piece uniforms, will be busily filling hundreds and hundreds of their iconic mouse-ear balloons. The balloons, a park staple since the beginning, are ringing in a special celebration this weekend. It's been exactly 60 years since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.
Disney first got the idea to build the park after watching his own young daughters play in a small local amusement park. The grounds weren’t well kept, the sounds and smells were unpleasant and the parents, left with nothing to do, were anxious to leave as soon as possible. "What this country really needs is an amusement park that families can take their children to,” he realized, “They've gotten so honky tonk with a lot of questionable characters running around, and they're not to safe. They're not well kept. I want to have a place that's as clean as anything could ever be, and all the people in it are first-class citizens, and treated like guests."
Disney originally had his sights on a park in Burbank, CA, where the Walt Disney Studios had operated since 1939. But officials of the media-centric northeast Los Angeles suburb cited noise, crime and negative real estate effects in a lobbied effort to keep the park out.
History of Disney
Undeterred, Disney looked to the undeveloped land 40 miles south in Anaheim, California. The rural area, surrounded by orange groves, provided plenty of space for growth as it would be needed. Disney purchased 160 acres and broke ground on July 17th, 1954, for the theme park of his dreams.
The Walt Disney Family Museum
From the very beginning, Disneyland was looking like a disaster. Hearing investors refer to the project as "Walt's folly" hurt Disney's pride and drove him to declare his opening day just one year after groundbreaking.
A masterful marketer, Disney invited Hollywood actor (and future US president), Ronald Reagan, and Rat Packers Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra to preside over the park's opening in a live broadcast. With over 90 million viewers, it was the most complex live broadcasts of its day.
It was Reagan who introduced the 53-year-old Walt Disney to give the park's dedication:
"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 which have created America ... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."
At opening day, Disneyland had 13 attractions.
The Disneyland Railroad, with stops in the Main Street Station and the New Orleans Square Station.
The Jungle Cruise.
The King Arthur Carrousel.
Babes in Disneyland
The Mad Tea Party.
Autopia. It's important to remember that at the time, car ownership among Americans was at 77%, a staggering increase from just 39% five years prior, and the thrill of auto-culture was booming.
Peter Pan's Flight.
Gorillas Don’t Blog
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
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Snow White's Scary Adventures.
Storybook Land Canal Boats.
Mark Twain Riverboat.
The Disneyland Band was one of the original attractions on opening day. The 16-person band has changed over the last 60 years, although its longest-running member has been in the ensemble for 44 years.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant was slated to be an original ride for opening day, but technical issues with the original 700-pound fiberglass elephants kept the pachyderms grounded for the first three months of the park.
Despite the media fanfare and 28,000 eager guests, far beyond the estimated 11,000, Disneyland was simply not prepared for its grand opening. The asphalt hadn't finished drying and was gobbling up the heels of women's shoes as they walked through the 100° California summer heat.
Guests had designated times to enter the park for opening day, but to Disney's astonishment, once guests had entered, they weren't leaving for many hours. The drinking fountains ran dry and the food ran out in the refreshment stands and Disney's original twenty restaurants.
By July 18th, 1955, the park opened to the general public. (After the problems with opening day, Disney invited the press back to experience the park properly.) The park was an instant success.
Disney and More
What's distinguished Disneyland from other amusement parks is its strict attention to detail, upkeep and preservation of the fantasy. This is especially reflected in the expectations of cast members (no public-facing employee of Disneyland is every referred to as simply a "worker", no matter the job) which, since opening day, have adhered to a strict set of guidelines. Hairstyles, facial hair and personal grooming have been held to exacting standards since day one, but it's the small details of conduct that set them apart. Disney characters must learn their character's trademark signature so that autographs collected over the years never vary. Personal flourishes, down to eyewear, are strictly monitored and it's a company-wide policy that everyone, no matter their title, picks up trash.
As the public flocked to the park, it continued to grow and expand to the Disneyland known and loved today.
Some highlights include the Pirates of the Caribbean in 1967.
The Haunted Mansion in 1969.
Theme Park Adventure
The Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963.
It's A Small World in 1966. (Did you know the trimmings on the exterior are actually made from 22 karat gold?)
The Matterhorn Bobsleds in 1959.
And, of course, thrill ride Space Mountain in 1977.
And those iconic mouse ears? They've been a Disneyland souvenir since day one, with over 84 million sold since.
Original Mickey Mouse Club
Today, at prices nearing $100 per day, Disneyland's visitors are estimated around 15 million per year. (Ever demure, Disney does not disclose the exact number.)
Celebrations for Disney's Diamond Anniversary are expected to continue year-round with special merchandise, shows, events and specialty park occasions.