“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 that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
When Walt Disney spoke these immortalized words on July 17, 1955, he had no idea the park would still be as popular as it is today. In fact, opening day was a disaster. With the final asphalt laid the night before, an 110 degree heat wave in progress, and many drinking fountains out of service due to a plumbers’ strike, no one knew what the future would hold. Today, of course, we know that Disneyland survived that disaster, and has been growing ever since.
Believe it or not, the Disneyland saga began in 1933, 23 years before the park‘s opening. Every Saturday Morning, Walt would take his two daughters to the park for “Daddy Day”. As the girls would play on the Merry-Go-Round, Walt would sit on a bench to wait. As he waited, he dreamed of a place where kids and their parents could have fun together. A “magical place”, so to speak. Unfortunately, at the time, Walt was too busy with his Animation Studio to pursue the dream. As the years passed, this dream grew in Walt’s mind, slowly but surely. Finally, fifteen years later, the final puzzle piece was put in place for Walt’s dream to finally be made into a reality.
Since a kid, Walt had been a fan of railroads. So, imagine how happy he was when in December of 1947, he was able to buy himself a small electric train set for his office. He was ecstatic. In fact, he showed it to all his visitors, including animators and railroad buffs Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball. Both Ollie and Ward had trains themselves, and Walt was a bit envious. Walt now wanted a personal railroad of his own, and he set out to build one with the help of Ward and Ollie. Meanwhile, though, Walt started putting focus on his old amusement park dream. Early 1948, Walt began detailed outlines of a park he was at the time calling Mickey Mouse Park. He wanted it located across from Buena Vista Studios. Unfortunately, when showing his brother Roy the ideas, his brother reminds Walt that they are in debt because of World War II and can’t afford to build a park. Walt, unable to let his idea die again, took matters into his own hands. He started trying to bring his company back into the green. One of the ways he tried to do it was by creating a new company called Walter Elias Disney Enterprises in late 1952 to start from scratch, but that company also went into debt.
Soon, Walt had a brilliant idea: Television! In 1950 and 1951, Walt had done Christmas specials on NBC and he loved it. Walt thought maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. He liked being on TV, and he thought it might be able to pave the way for his dream. First, he had to draw up plans for what he now was calling Disneyland. In September of 1953, he hired friend and former artist Herb Ryman to draw Disneyland. A few months later, in April of 1954, Walt made the announcement of a lifetime. Walt would be starting a TV show in October of 1954, and his park would be opening in July 1955. After going to NBC, CBS, and ABC, ABC made an offer. The deal made included $500,000 up front and a guarantee on all bank loans to Walt in return for ABC receiving 35% of Disneyland’s ownership, 100% of food profits for 10 years, and access to the Disney library for 8 years. Disneyland would finally be a reality.
Disneyland began construction on July 21, 1954, less than one year before opening day. Between construction and the ABC negotiation, Walt had bought a 160 acre orange grove in Anaheim. One year to cut down an orange grove and build an entire park? Would that be possible. Well, it had to be, and work started instantly. Unfortunately, problems arose every now and then. Here’s a fun fact for you all. When the orange groves were being cut down, there were a few trees that were to be left standing, but little to Walt’s knowledge when marking which trees to keep and which ones to knock down, the driver of the bulldozer was colorblind and ended up tearing everything down. As the year went by, work got more and more strenuous. Workers were even asked to work weekends to finish on time.
Finally, opening day arrived. Eighteen attractions had built, including the Jungle Cruise and Autopia. Absent from that list was the famous Matterhorn, which would end up coming 4 years later. The price tag of admission was $1 and each ride cost 10 -35 cents. Over 30,000 people attended, and over 90 million watched the grand opening from home. Walt was ready, and as he stood to speak, everyone could hear him say those magical words. “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome