Disneyland Opens to Massive Crowd 

U.S. #1355 was designed by two Disney artists.

On July 17, 1955, Walt Disney realized one of his long-time dreams when he opened his Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California.

Renowned animator Walt Disney had long dreamed of opening an amusement park to share his bustling creativity with children and adults alike. Throughout the 1930s and 40s he visited a number of amusement parks with his daughters and began to plan what his own park could be like. Disney’s earliest known written plans for the park date to August 31, 1948, when he wrote about a proposed park called “Mickey Mouse Park” after visiting the Chicago Railroad Fair and Henry Ford’s Museum.

U.S. #4343 from the Art of Disney series.

At the same time, people frequently wrote letters to the studio asking for visits and tours. Disney knew that the busy studio had little entertainment value to fans, but realized that he could establish a place for them to visit near the Burbank studios. Disney’s early plan was for an eight-acre park with a boat ride and themed areas. He soon began visiting other parks, around the world to find inspiration. Disney then turned the project over to designers to create concepts for the park. But their ideas soon grew to encompass an area much larger than Disney initially expected.

Disney then hired Harrison Price to find a suitable area to build such a massive park. With Price’s encouragement, Disney purchased a 160-acre plot of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim. The cost of building the park was high, so Disney looked for new ways to raise funds. He created a show called Disneyland for the struggling ABC network in return for their financing the park. Disney also rented out shops to outside companies on his Main Street, U.S.A.

Item #MDS259B pictures the Seven Dwarves riding the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train at Disneyland.

Construction on the park began on July 16, 1954. A nearby highway was also built during this time and additional lanes were added in anticipation of heavy traffic for the new park. After just a year of construction and $17 million, Disney planned a special “International Press Review” for select guests on July 17, 1955.

Invitations went out to 6,000 studio employees, construction workers, sponsors, members of the press, and their families. However, counterfeit passes were made and over 28,000 people showed up, causing major traffic jams.

Item #M9125 – Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005.

And that wasn’t the only problem. The larger crowd meant the vendors ran out of food and drinks. Some of the asphalt was still fresh and women’s high-heeled shoes got stuck. A plumbing strike left Disney to decide between working water fountains or working toilets and he chose the latter. As one report claimed, “Probably for the first time in his career, Disney disappointed thousands of youngsters.”

But the day wasn’t all bad. Walt delivered a stirring speech, in part saying, “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.” Guests also got a glimpse into the magic of Disney in five different themed sections: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street USA.

U.S. #4494 was issued for Reagan’s 100th birthday.

The opening event was also broadcast in a live 90-minute special, “Dateline Disneyland,” hosted by future president Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, and Bob Cummings. It was one of the largest live broadcasts ever that faced its own challenges. But it was still viewed by 90 million people. Walt was unaware of most of the issues that plagued the opening day (dubbed “Black Sunday”) because he was busy with the live broadcast. When he found out about the issues he invited the press back for a second private day to experience the true magic of Disneyland.

U.S. #2368 was the first U.S. stamp to have first day ceremonies at Disneyland.

Walt and his staff worked hard to correct the problems of the first day. Customers began lining up at 2 a.m. the following day to experience the magic for themselves. Some 50,000 people turned out that day and it only took seven weeks for the park to surpass one million visitors.

Today Disneyland is the most-visited park in the world, with over 650 million guests in the past 60 years.

Click here and here to view some neat photos from opening day.

Click here to view last year’s discussion about This Day in History.

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  1. As a youngsters, I remember watching Walt presenting the wonders of Disneyland on TV and was unaware of the actual ‘behind the scenes’ activities that marred the opening day. Thanks for the insights into history.

  2. Yes, as a child, I remember well the TV shows, Walt Disney Presents, Wonderful World of Disney and later, Disney’s Wonderful world of Color. My dad took me to Disney Land the summer of 1955, the year that it opened. It was thrilling. One of the most memorable was the boat ride in Adventure Land, and all the various animated animals that would peek at you through the water and on the shores. And, if memory serves me, there was Tomorrow Land that actually gave you a simulated rocket ship ride to the moon and back. I still have some fond black and white photos I took, and every so often take out the old album to reminisce. Unfortunately, my old B/W brownie camera didn’t take the best pictures, but they are among my youthful treasures.

  3. I remember Disneyland’s opening as a kid and thought it would be the most exciting place in the world to visit. Alas, being clear across the country, it was just a dream until 1971 as an adult, when a friend and I drove to the West coast and included Disneyland on our trip. Suddenly we were 8 years old again, running through the caves on Tom Sawer’s island, finding our way into the frontier fort. Rides on the Mark Twain steamboat, and walking down Disney”s memory of Main Street America. Walt hit it in the head with his creation. Not only a park for the young, but one for the young at heart.

  4. Thank you, Walt Disney, (and Fess Parker) for generating within me an interest in history; something I eventually turned into a career.

  5. I have been to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and have been back s number of times,
    My favorite part of the park is “It’s A Snall World because you can learn about different cultures by
    taking a boat ride, listen to lovely music and see dancing dolls with beautiful costumes from all around the world.

  6. And now it runs about 100.00 a person to visit for a day. Not to mention food and parking costs. I wonder how Walt would feel about this?

  7. Never appreciated Disney’s right-wing agenda in all his films. True propaganda for the”American Dream”.

  8. My brother loves to go Disneyland in California and Florida with his college buddies also with his wife that my brother send me some photos of Disneyland in California via iPhone photos during his vacation last year

  9. Our mistake was to visit Disney World in Orlando first. By the time we visited Disneyland we were very disappointed. It could not compare to what was accomplished in Orlando.

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