by Ray Keating
July 17, 2019
July 17thmarks one of the most notable dates in the history of the Walt Disney Company, and in the history of theme park entertainment. On July 17, 1955, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, opened.
Let’s take a moment to review some interesting facts about the magical – or less-than-magical, in some respects – Opening Day of one of the happiest and most successful places on Earth.
1. Walt Disney’s experience of financing, building and opening Disneyland was a true story of entrepreneurship. As noted in Dave Smith’s Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia, Walt took his children to carnivals and small amusement parks; saw that only they were having fun; recognized an opportunity to create an experience where children and parents could be entertained together; and by “borrowing on his life insurance, selling his vacation home and getting money from several companies,” pulled together the $17 million investment to build and open Disneyland.
2. It’s good to know that some recognizable names of rides opened on July 17, 1955, survive in Disney theme parks to this very day, such as Peter Pan’s Flight, Mad Tea Party, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and the Jungle Cruise.
3. Disneyland was built on 160 acres where 11,000 orange trees grew.
4. July 17 was for invited guests, with Disneyland opening the general public the next day. Among the notables at the park on July 17th, one columnist at the time, Eve Starr, highlighted “Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Irene Dunne, Gale Storm, George (Superman) Reeves, Robert Cummings, George Gobel, and, of course, Fess Parker, who played Tennessee’s Davy Crockett in the Disney TV series.” (As noted in Aaron H. Goldberg’s The Disney Story: Chronicling the Man, the Mouse, and the Parks.)
5. As DesigningDisney.com notes, “The highly anticipated Opening Day festivities, including the dedication and a parade, were covered by ABC with a 90 minute live special, 'Dateline Disneyland', broadcasted between 7h30 and 9h p.m. EDT and hosted by television personalities Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan and Bob Cummings. At the time, it was one of the largest and most complex live broadcasts ever. Ninety million viewers watched the coverage of the unveiling of the world’s most fabulous kingdom.”
6. History.com reported: “America watched as Disney presided over the official dedication ceremony, which included a benediction by a Protestant minister, a band playing the national anthem as military members raised the American flag and a flyover by the California Air National Guard. Then viewers took a virtual tour of the Magic Kingdom’s four realms—Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.”
7. Of course, as has been noted over the years, there were many problems on Opening Day. For example, History.com pointed out:
Disneyland was overloaded with party crashers. The theme park expected a crowd of 15,000 people at the invitation-only opening, however, 28,154 passed through Disneyland’s gates thanks to counterfeit tickets. A few more even scaled a fence using a ladder erected by a makeshift entrepreneur who charged $5 a head.
Even by southern California standards, the seven-mile backup to Disneyland on the Santa Ana Freeway was epic. Passengers baked in their cars, and kids were forced to take bathroom breaks on the side of the freeway and even in the Disneyland parking lot. Unprepared for the throng, Disneyland’s refreshment stands and three restaurants ran out of food, and sweating parents and thirsty kids abandoned many of the long lines.
8. Check out the entire ABC broadcast of Disneyland’s Opening Day...
Many – both inside and outside the Walt Disney Company – doubted Walt’s vision about Disneyland. He proved them all wrong in historic fashion.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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