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How did Disneyland Begin?

By Bronwyn Harris
Updated May 23, 2024
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When Walt Disney took his daughters out, he had a realization that there was nowhere for families to go that held fun activities for both parents and children. He wanted to create a family fun park that had none of the negative connotations of amusement parks or traveling carnivals of the time. As Disney began to think about what he could offer in terms of family entertainment, he was inspired by some letters from fans who had met their favorite characters at the Disney studio.

Disney began to consider a park of some sort near his Burbank studios. He envisioned statues of the Disney characters, a boat ride, and some other themed areas around a park. Originally to be named "Mickey Mouse Park," the ideas took off, inspired by amusement parks in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dearborn, Michigan, and Oakland, California. Disney's park opened on a much grander scale than previously imagined, becoming Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

As the plans for Disneyland grew from an eight acre park for employees and their families to the 160 acres that Disney eventually purchased, new fundraising ideas were needed. Creating a show called Disneyland that was shown on the new television network American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Disney brought the idea right into the living rooms of America. It was a good deal for him, as he promoted his park, and got ABC to help finance it, in exchange for the show.

More financial assistance was needed, however, and Disney found additional investors, including Western Publishing. Until 1960, Disneyland was actually owned by Disneyland, Inc., with shares owned by ABC, Western Publishing, and Walt Disney Productions. Eventually, Walt Disney Productions acquired all the shares of Disneyland, Inc., but not without hard feelings between Disney and ABC.

Opening day at Disneyland was not the smashing success we might imagine. A large supply of counterfeit tickets caused the park to become overly crowded, traffic was congested, the day was 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius), and the new asphalt was so soft that women wearing high heels sank into the ground. In addition, and not welcomed by the crowds who had braved the summer heat, a plumbers' strike caused drinking fountains to be without water, and hungry crowds were unable to buy food when vendors completely ran out. Finally, a gas leak caused three lands - Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland - to close for the afternoon.

After seeing the bad press caused by the abysmal opening day, Disney invited the press back for a private day to experience Disneyland the way he meant for it to be experienced, even holding a private party in the Disneyland Hotel for members of the press. The original bad press was overcome, and at 2 a.m. on 18 July 1955, the public began to line up to buy tickets.

Since then, Disneyland has enjoyed unprecedented success, expanding its original park to the Disney Resort complex, which includes the Downtown Disney District and Disney's California Adventure Park, and spreading to other locations, including Walt Disney World in Florida, Euro Disney in France, Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan, and Hong Kong Disneyland in Hong Kong.

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Discussion Comments

By Fa5t3r — On Jul 12, 2014

@browncoat - The thing is, a theme park is a massive and strange business. It's extremely expensive to run, because you have to pay for so many employees. Not just the ones we see when we visit, but also the ones that are behind the scenes, making sure everything works well and is kept clean and tidy.

I can't even imagine the risk it must have seemed like back when Disneyland was first opened. The idea that it would have been able to have enough customers consistently to pay for the electricity and the maintenance and the salaries and so forth was very ambitious. Especially since it wasn't like people got anything from the experience except memories.

I'm really glad they did take that risk though, because even with the crowds I still love going to Disneyland (and theme parks in general). I feel like this world needs more places that exist purely so that people can have fun.

By browncoat — On Jul 11, 2014

@irontoenail - If you are trying to fit the whole park into a single day it can be exhausting. I always try to go for more than one day and arrange it so that it's during the week and preferably during a season like winter when there aren't going to be many other people there.

I almost wish they would just build a second park or something though. It's always so crowded even with all those precautions and it's annoying having to wait in line for most of the day for a few minutes of fun.

By irontoenail — On Jul 10, 2014

It's hard to imagine Disneyland ever being seen as a bad investment. It's almost like a movie script, the fact that the park almost failed on the first day, but Walt managed to save it by appealing to the reporters' sense of wonder.

Although I think it would have been kind of hilarious to see the women in high heels sinking into the asphalt. I know they wouldn't have known any better back then, but I can't imagine wearing high heels to Disneyland now. Last time I was there my feet were aching after the day and I wore my most comfortable shoes.

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