Disneyland’s very first Opening Day, to the public, was Jul. 18, 1955. The day before was the Park’s dedication and special preview day, complete with 6,000 guest invitations. However, 22,000 more guests arrived at the special event with fake tickets. The dedication was aired on ABC at 4:30 p.m. PST and was the largest live telecast with 90 million viewers. It was a 90 minute special called Dateline Disneyland, hosted by Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, and Bob Cummings.
In 1955, the admission fee was $1. The attractions and rides were paid for by purchasing tickets or a book of tickets. Rides and specialized items of interest included, the Disneyland and the Santa Fe Railroads, fire wagon, horse-drawn streetcars, stage coaches, surreys, and a mule pack. There were also King Arthur’s Carousel, Main Street Cinema, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Adventures, Canal Boats of the World, Mad Tea Party, Space Station X-1, Autopia, Jungle Cruise, Mark Twain Riverboat and Circarama. All of these attractions are still imaginative wonders in Disneyland today, except for six. The six attractions that are no longer forms of entertainment at Disneyland are the stage coaches, surreys, Canal Boats of the World, mule pack, Circarama and Space Station X-1.
Disneyland offered 20 attractions on opening day, including five lands with different themes. They were Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Main Street USA.
When Disneyland first opened, for the scheduled dedication, it came with its own set of problems. Trees were still being planted, and there were areas that still had wet paint. There was a local plumbers’ strike, so most of the water fountains were not operational. Moreover, it was 100 degrees that day.
Asphalt was poured the morning Disneyland opened, and it was still so soft that women’s heels sunk into it. Fantasyland’s gas leak forced management to close it down for the day. In the afternoon, Frontierland and Adventureland had to be closed down due to gas leaks as well. Rides broke down not long after the gates welcomed its first guests. Restaurants and food stands sold all of their food early.
Disney had no idea all these things were happening, because he was busy with the Dateline Disneyland live broadcast. He was not aware of the park’s problems until the next day. Disney and his staff took control of the situation with the crowded walkways, low ride capacity, slow food service and traffic jams.
The media was invited back on July 18, for the public’s first day to experience Disneyland, so the media could see what the experience was actually supposed to feel like. Walt Disney took an official photo with two children, Christina Vess Watkins and Michael Scheartner.
People started lining up to get into the gates at 2 a.m. for the 10 a.m. opening. David MacPherson was the first person to buy a ticket at the gate and enter the park experience. Roy O. Disney had arranged ahead of time to get the first ticket, so MacPherson had ticket number two.
It took $17 million and a year to bring Walt Disney’s imagination to life. Today, 60 years later, Disneyland is a part of American culture. Even though Walt Disney passed away 11 years after Disneyland opened, people can still experience his larger-than-life imagination and childlike spirit.
Florabel Muir had the honor of receiving a personal tour from Walt Disney himself, who referred to his wonderland as, “160 acres of happiness.” Muir asked, what is Disneyland? Disney responded by saying, it is a playground, similar to a fair, a “city from Arabian Nights,” a vision of the future, a place of magic, but “above all, a place for people to go to find happiness and knowledge. “Something I dreamed up long ago.” Muir and Disney went onto the grounds through an old-fashioned railroad station and got into a scaled replica of the locomotive that came westward, nearly a century ago. The engine pulled six coaches and 300 passengers and circled the mile and a half perimeter.
Disney shared the engineer’s seat with a smiling Mickey Mouse. The fun loving rodent was the first product of his imagination and the founder of his fortune. Disneyland features a reproduction from last century’s Main Street, including horse-drawn streetcars that visitors may ride. The buildings are real with a roof and four walls, scaled down to 80 percent. While walking down Main Street, Muir saw an ice cream parlor, a photographer’s shop, bakery, a penny arcade, drug store, music store, grocery and butcher shop. The stores were open to serve visitors, by well-known U.S. firms like Swift & Co., who ran the butcher shop; although, instead of serving meat they sold candy edible versions of the staple substance. Disney has a store too. The store sells Davy Crockett coonskin hats.
There is a plaza at the end of Main Street. This is the hub of Disneyland themed lands. From the hub visitors can choose the path to either Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland or Frontierland.
Tomorrowland can be identified by the towering, space rocket. The rocket is a symbol of scientific achievements familiar to both adults and children. And children and parents can blast off to the moon in Tomorrowland. Those who would prefer not to go through the outer space experience, can view the U.S. from inner space. There is a man-made satellite that orbits 500 miles above the earth.
If visitors prefer to explore the past and the wild frontier, they can experience it in Frontierland.
Frontierland takes visitors to the time of Davy Crockett through gates made of an old blockhouse logs. There are Indians in full garb that greets visitors with, “How!” if they had safe-conduct by paying $1 at the main gate. Crockett is around to exchange stories with the tots. Frontierland has Western-style stores and buildings. The Marshall’s office, the general store, the jail and more. There are buckboards, covered wagons and stagecoaches, to take a ride through the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert is crawling with Disney creatures that do not bite or sting.
There are exemptions, such as liquor, including beer. Disney told Muir that he could have gotten his costs back if he sold beer however, Disneyland was built predominately for children and he does not believe liquor and kids mix.
Visitors who are thirsty can visit the Golden Horseshoe, the “longest little bar with the tallest glassful of pop.” The Golden Horseshoe faces a river dock. In Frontierland visitors can get on a 105-foot steamboat, The Mark Twain and cruise the rivers of America. Disneyland has something for everyone, including the tiny tots.
The littlest kids prefer Fantasyland. Disney said it is filled with imagination, dreams and hopes, he told Muir as he stood across from the pastel fairy castle that came straight off the drawing board.
The drawbridge came down as Disney and Muir crossed the moat into a courtyard and there King Arthur’s carousel spun. They walked up a few stone steps to Sleeping Beauty’s medieval vaulted bedchamber. There was a dungeon below and kiddie-sized torture weapons.
There are rides but they are not like any other amusement park. There’s Peter Pan that flies children over moonlit London into pirate galleon to Never Never Land with mermaids, Indians, buccaneers, and the lost boys. Snow White carries children in the wicked witch’s den. Mr. Toad Drive-Thru was a trip in a 1903 vehicle that runs into a barn and delivers the children beyond the heavenly gates to music.
Muir said that everything in Fantasyland is related to a Disney character. Dumbo, the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio and the rest of the characters. Muir said that the best was yet to come, for her.
Muir’s favorite part of Disneyland was Adventureland. She happily reported that it is a Tahitian land with tropical birds, shells, fish and flowers. There is a Trading Post that sells souvenirs. She said it felt like being in the South Seas. A boat takes passengers down a tropical river and electrical impulses move plastic crocodiles around the boat. The river banks have rhinos, elephants, hippos, and lions that make their traditional noises and move around. They were created by Bob Matte, who also built the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Disney told Muir that he wanted to build International Street. It would be a special exhibit showcasing each of the major cities around the world, except for the ones that are behind the Iron Curtain. He says he will never finish that project and prefers not to finish the project. Disneyland is meant to always be evolving.
Walt Disney is a practical dreamer, Muir said, and acknowledged that Disneyland was his most profitable daydream in 30 years. That can be experienced by anyone and appreciated by those with vivid imagination, wonderment and child-like spirit.
By Jeanette Smith
San Gabrielle Valley Tribune: Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration: 5 Facts About Opening Day in 1955
Designing Disney: The Grand Opening of Disneyland
NY Daily News: Disneyland Opens in 1955
Photos courtesy of:
Tom Bricker’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Tom Simpson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Tom Simpson 2’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Tom Simpson 3’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Tom Simpson 4’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License