It’s hard to imagine a world without a Disneyland. It’s an American icon – no, a global icon – that has set the standard for family fun for over half a century. More than a place, it is a symbol of childhood dreams, of timeless wonder, and of the power of fantasy. But once upon a time Disneyland itself was a mere dream that would take years of planning to become a reality.
Having defined family entertainment with Mickey Mouse, the Silly Symphonies series, and feature films such as Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia, Walt’s next step was to create a new type of amusement park that adults could enjoy as much as their children. To finance this flight of fancy, Walt sold a series to ABC for the then-fledging medium of network television.
Walt Disney’s Disneyland was an immediate success, and the show allowed him to reach deep into the hearts and minds of Middle America on a weekly basis. With regular bulletins on the construction of Disneyland Park, Walt was able to fan the country into frenzy by the time the park was set to open.
On July 17, 1955, Walt’s dream sprang noisily to life. Part amusement park, part world’s fair, part roadside attraction, Disneyland, the highly anticipated new concept in family entertainment, opened its gates to a surge of lucky ticket holders and invited guests. The rest of the country looked on vicariously, courtesy of a live ABC TV broadcast, hosted by Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and, of course, Walt Disney. The future had indeed arrived in Anaheim, California (though we really didn’t know it yet.)
The world had never seen anything remotely like Disneyland. An amusement park built by designers, artists and animators, Disneyland was a totally immersive virtual reality years ahead of its time. The concept was simple: the park was divided into themed “lands,” each containing rides, attractions, and themed dining and entertainment. Frontierland offered Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer’s Island, and an authentic stagecoach to whisk visitors back to the days of the Wild West. Fantasyland contained the fairy tales that inspired Disney’s animated features such as Snow White, Dumbo, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Adventureland offered a mysterious Jungle Cruise and Tomorrowland offered a glimpse of the exciting world of the future, with a Rocket to the Moon, Astro Jets and a Hall of Chemistry.
The entry to these wonderful lands was a faithful recreation of a turn-of-the century American small town: Main Street USA. Filled with vintage-era candy and ice cream shops, a penny arcade, a nineteenth century pharmacy and a silent movie theater, Main Street transported visitors back in time and readied them for the journeys yet to come.
Disneyland immediately entered the pop culture lexicon. It attracted children and adults the world over. Celebrities, dignitaries, Heads of State, Presidents and just plain folks all came to this happiest place on earth, and were entertained as never before.
In 1959, Disneyland added the Monorail, the Matterhorn and the Submarine Voyage. In the 1960s, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, an all-new Tomorowland and the Haunted Mansion were added, keeping Disneyland fresh, exciting and always growing, as its creator intended. In 1971, Walt Disney World in Florida opened with great fanfare. There are now Disneyland theme parks in Japan, France and Hong Kong.
New and innovative attractions like Space Mountain, Star Tours and Indiana Jones have kept Disneyland’s happy crowds at capacity. In 2001, a second theme park, Disney’s California Adventure rose from the ashes of the old Disneyland parking lot. Now past the half-century mark, Disneyland is itself as nostalgic as its own Main Street USA was in 1955, and the park continues to innovate with new rides, attractions, and other wonders great and small. Disneyland still captivates children of all ages, and Walt Disney’s dream will hold a special, magical place in our collective consciousness for generations to come.
If have special memories of visiting Disneyland as a child, we’d love to hear them in our comments section as we tip our hat to Walt Disney and his amazing vision.