On this date, July 17th, something very world-changing and significant happened. Do you know what it was? On this date in 1955, at 2:30 Pacific Time, Disneyland opened… but only by invitation. It opened to the public the following day. Ronald Reagan introduced Walt Disney, and the Grand Opening was televised by ABC. It was the largest live event televised up to that time.
“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.” Walt Disney, written by Winston Hibler.
Maybe you’re wondering who Winston Hibler was. He worked for Walt Disney Studios until his death in 1976 at the age of 65. He was a screen writer, producer and director. Hibler was a writer on Cinderella, in 1950 and Peter Pan in 1953 as well as many other Disney productions.
Although 6,000 invited guests were expected, an estimated 28,000 “invitees” showed up for the opening ceremonies because, true to form, it seems many of the tickets were counterfeited. The original park included Main Street, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland with a total of 18 attractions. His original idea encompassed an 8-acre park outside of his Burbank studios, but grew into the 160-acre park in Anaheim.
The total cost, $17 million, most of it Walt’s own money. He couldn’t get any investors in the beginning, but he was able to get ABC to help finance the park if he would produce a television show on their channel. The program Walt created was called “Disneyland” and showed previews of the different themed areas in the new, upcoming park and ran from 1954 to 1958. He followed that up with “Walt Disney Presents” in 1958 to 1961, and, the show I remember every Sunday evening, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, 1961 to 1969, which we watched in my house in black and white. I can still remember the first time I saw the show in color on a friend’s TV. Disney is still on TV with a show called “The Magical World of Disney Junior.” What those shows did was drive us kids into a frenzy trying to convince our parents that we wanted to go to Disneyland more than anything else in the world. It became the vacation destination of choice, and very few of us made it. All we ever did was grow more envious of those who had been to the Magic Kingdom.
The park was built in a year, construction started on July 21, 1954. And the cost of admission? One dollar. The drive and accommodations were still widely out of my family’s budget in the 60s. I finally got to Disneyland in my early 20s with my wife and a VW Camper bus known as Bernie. We spent three days in Anaheim, and satisfied my childhood urge by seeing everything we could see in the park from the minute the gate opened until they threw us out when the park closed.
It was exhausting. I’ve always said that you can’t explain Disneyland to anyone; you really have to experience it. The second and third times you go it’s just not the same. If you haven’t gone, it’s something you need to do. And the other thing I’ve always said was Disneyland is really for adults. Interestingly enough, when Walt Disney was taking his grandkids to a park in Los Angeles, he would sit with the other parents, and grandparents on the bench with nothing to do while the kids played. That’s when the idea of a magic kingdom came to him as a place where adults could take their kids and also have something to do. I still think the adults are always more impressed than the kids.
One of my immediate favorite animatronics was a little owl professor dressed in a cap and gown in the lobby of the theatre with “The Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction on Main Street. You could hear the little guy whirring and clicking as he showed a short wildlife movie. The realism was uncanny and without the mechanical sounds you would swear he was real. Okay, so it doesn’t take much to impress me. I still think Abe Lincoln standing up in front of an audience and giving a speech was worth the price of admission. And the Haunted House, and the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Country Bear Jamboree, and the birds in the Tiki Room, and…
Today the cost of admission is $96 for a one-day ticket; $90 is you’re age 3-9. But there are a lot more rides today, way more things to see and way more fun. Disneyland now has the Disney California Adventure, and other Disney theme parks are in Orlando Florida, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Those last two are in Communist China in case you didn’t know. Over 132 million people visit Disney resorts every year. And the man couldn’t find investors when he started out. WTF. Well, I guess, maybe, the opening of Disneyland wasn’t “world-changing,” but it certainly was significant.