After years of planning, Walt Disney's very first theme park Disneyland opened its gates at 2:30PM on Sunday July 17, 1955 in Anaheim, California. Television crews, Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings, the Mouseketeers, Thurl Ravenscroft, California Governor Goodwin J. Knight and over 28,000 guests witnessed the opening of Walt's dream. Broadcast on ABC at 4:30PM, it was the biggest live telecast to date.
Eighteen-year-old Bob Penfield operated the King Arthur Carousel that day - he was suppose to operate Peter Pan's Flight, but the attraction kept breaking down. "On Opening Day I remember standing on the Carrousel when they lowered the drawbridge for the first time and all of the kids came running across." Penfield went on to become the longest working Cast Member in Disneyland history!
Charlie Ridgway, a reporter working for the Los Angeles Mirror-News was covering the opening of Disneyland on that hot July day. He later went on to work for Disney as a publicist before relocating to Orlando, Florida to run Disney's public-relations department for
Actor Ronald Reagan (who would later become president of the United States) introduced 53-year-old Walt Disney - "And now, Walt Disney will step forward to read the dedication of Disneyland." Walt christened his 160-acre park with these now famous words (penned by Winston Hibler):
The park offered 5 themed lands with a total of 18 attractions. Disneyland
opened as invitation only on this day, given to studio workers, construction workers, the press and officials
of company sponsors. (The park opened to the general public the following day - July 18.) Because tickets to the
grand opening were counterfeited, a surprising 28,000-plus attended. The day was marked by numerous disasters, including a traffic jam, a shortage of food, and a gas leak in Fantasyland. Even a chunk of window from the Mark Twain Steamboat crashed on the head of an invited state senator! Disneyland encouraged visitors to arrive before 4:15PM, as during the live ABC telecast the park's gates were closed from 4:20PM to 5:30PM.
Cast Member Ron Dominguez was working as a ticket taker at Disneyland's main gate. "I was a Ticker Taker. Opening Day was a hectic day. The plan was to invite people at different hours so that we could spread out all of the arrivals. But it didn't work out that way. Everyone wanted to come out early to see the stars." Dominguez would spend his entire career at the park eventually becoming a top executive (between 1971-1994). Ironically he grew up on one of the Anaheim orange groves later purchased by Disney for the theme park. The Dominguez family house was located just about where the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean is!
Celebrities visiting Disneyland that day included Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr., Danny Thomas, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.
July 17, 1955 was known by Disneyland old-timers as
"Black Sunday" (because of the numerous mishaps)
... yet in those first 7 weeks more than a million
people walked down Disneyland's Main Street USA!
Plaza Pavilion Restaurant
MAIN STREET USA
Bank of America
Carnation Ice Cream Parlor
Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner
Horse-Drawn Fire Wagon
Horse-Drawn Street Cars
Main Street Cinema
Main Street Penny Arcade
Ruggles China and Glass House
Story Book Shop
Santa Fe / Disneyland Railroad (featuring 2 engines:
#1 C.K. Holliday & #2 E.P. Ripley)
Jungle Cruise (featuring 2 boats: Ganges Gal and Congo Queen)
Red Wagon Inn
Chicken Plantation Restaurant
Davy Crockett Arcade
Frontier Trading Post
Golden Horseshoe Revue at Slue Foot Sue's Golden Horseshoe Saloon
Mark Twain Steamboat
Canal Boats of the World
King Arthur Carrousel
Mad Tea Party
Merlin's Magic Shop
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
Peter Pan's Flight
Snow White's Adventures
Circarama USA (presenting the film
A Tour of the West)
Monsanto Hall of Chemistry
Space Station X-1
Nine-year-old Bonnie Williams was an opening day guests because her church youth group was invited. She was among the first children to cross the drawbridge into Fantasyland and ride Disneyland's rides! "I remember seeing Walt," she says. "He looked like a giant. I told him, 'I saw you on TV!' The whole day was magical. I felt like a real princess."
"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."
A rusty-haired 12-year-old named Tom Nabbe also visited Disneyland. Tom and his mom stood outside the park's entrance seeking autographs from Hollywood stars who were visiting. They spotted entertainer Danny Thomas exiting and Tom's mom asked him for an autograph. As he signed he asked her, "Have you been in the park?" Upon learning she hadn't, Thomas gave her two extra free passes! Tom and his mom became invited guests of Danny Thomas! (Two days later, Tom landed a job as a "newsie," hawking The Disneyland News on Main Street. In 1956 Nabbe became the park's first Tom Sawyer and in 1971, became Walt Disney World's monorail manager!)
Firehouse Five Plus Two, a Dixieland jazz band made up of Disney Studio employees and led by animator Ward Kimball, appeared at the firehouse on Main Street for the opening ceremonies. The group, made up of Harper Goff, Danny Alguire, Clarke Mallery, Monte Mountjoy, Ed Penner, and Frank Thomas, later played at the dedication of Frontierland.
"Walt told us to wander around the park and play wherever there was a crowd. We were the first mobile band at Disneyland!" -Ward Kimball
Disney consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price, who a few years earlier had chosen the then-sleepy agricultural town of Anaheim as the location for Disneyland, attended opening day. "I was on the bridge that led to Sleeping Beauty's Castle, and it was full of people. We couldn't move. and the asphalt was sticky. I looked down and saw Frank Sinatra, and he was cursing."
Actor Fess Parker, famously known in 1955 as TV's Davy Crockett, led the opening-day parade dressed as the famous frontiersman and riding a horse! ''There were so many people I couldn't see the park!" he later explained.
The Mouseketeers were first introduced to the public during the live
broadcast of the Disneyland opening day festivities. All 24 members were featured in the inaugural Main Street parade and were showcased with their very own musical production number. (Mickey Mouse Club would make its national television premiere on October 3, 1955.)
Future Disneyland President Jack Lindquist was there on opening day ... but as a guest. He was working for an ad agency and one of his clients, Kelvinator (an appliance company) invited him. "It was so overcrowded, and it was I think 105. I don’t know, but very very hot. But traffic wasn’t a problem, they had a great system of directing traffic. It came right into the parking lot, and then everything came to a halt. You had tickets that said enter at 1PM. Well, the people that had tickets that said 8am, 9am, 10am weren’t leaving. They were just adding more people going in, nobody was coming out."
"It’s not apparent at a casual glance but this street is only a scale model. We had every brick and tile and gas lamp made 5/8ths true size. This cost more, but it made the street a toy, and the imagination can play more freely with a toy. Besides, people like to think that their world is somehow more grown-up than Papa’s was."
-Walt Disney on Disneyland's Main Street
Also among the first children to run through Sleeping Beauty Castle was young Robb Fischle. He was also one of the first to experience Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Starting in 1972 he worked at Disneyland and today is a park Security Officer!
"Main Street, U.S.A. is America at
the turn of the century - the
crossroads of an era. The gas lamps
and the electric lamps,
the horse drawn car and the
auto car. Main Street is everyone's
home town ... the
heartline of America."
"Here is adventure, here is romance,
here is mystery. Tropical
rivers, flowing silently into the
unknown, the unbelievable
splendor of exotic flowers,
the eerie sounds of the jungle, with
eyes that are always watching
.... this is Adventureland."
"Here we experience the story
of our country's past ... the colorful drama of frontier
America in the exciting
days of the covered
wagon and the stage
coach, the advent of
the railroad and the
Frontierland is a
tribute to the faith,
ingenuity of the
blazed the trails
"Here is the world of
imagination, hopes and
dreams. In this timeless
land of enchantment,
the age of chivalry,
magic, and make-believe
are reborn, and fairy
tales come true.
dedicated to the
young at heart, to
those who believe
that when you
wish upon a star,
"Tomorrowland ... a vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man's achievements ... a step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and
ideals ... the challenge of outer space, and the hope of a peaceful and unified world." -Walt Disney
"Opening Day? It was wonderful! I was loading jungle boats and Bob Cummings microphone wire kept getting wrapped around my neck! I was supposed to be working on the Mark Twain but they didn't have my uniform by opening day. Well, the Mark Twain had too many operators and the jungle didn't have enough, so I went to the jungle for a year. There were no microphones on the boats then and you shouted yourself hoarse with a megaphone. I didn't like to give the spiel so they sent me to the shooting galleries for ten years. I made Walt Disney pay on the shooting gallery. Yep. Sure did. That's the rules... no different for him than anyone else! Walt wanted things perfect. He had an open mind and asked advice of the operators saying, 'How can you improve?' He loved kids." -Homer Holland (original Cast Member)
Imagineer Harriett Burns, the first woman ever hired by Walt Disney in a creative rather than an office capacity, was there on July 17 as well.
"Oh, the crunch. Oh my gosh. We were all assigned different places... each person at the studio. They didn’t want everyone in the same area. They thought we’d be spaced out and sort of be “hosting” in different areas. But, it was just so crunched. They had counterfeit tickets and there was just this mob of people and it felt like 110 degrees. The asphalt was melting, every woman wore heels and my heels would sink into the asphalt. It was a miserable hot day."
"On the opening day of Disneyland, we (Mouseketters) were in Walt Disney's private apartment above the Main Street Fire Station when the gates of the park opened for the first time. I was standing next to him at the window, watching the guests come pouring through the gates. When I looked up at him, he had his hands behind his back, a grin from ear to ear, I could see a lump in his throat and a tear streaming down his cheek. He had realized his dream. I was only twelve years old at the time, so it didn't mean as much to me then. But as the years go by, that image of him becomes more and more endearing." -Sharon Baird
"Disneyland will always
be building and growing
and adding new things…
new ways of having fun,
of learning things and
sharing the many exciting
adventures which may be
experienced here in
the company of family
"I think what I want
Disneyland to be most of
all is a happy place—a place
where adults and children
can experience together
some of the wonder of
life, of adventure, and
feel better because of it."
Young Martin Gushwa visited the park on that historic day as well. "I was one of
the kids that ran across the bridge and then thru the castle the day the park opened," Marty happily recalled. After high school and during his college years he worked at the Disneyland Hotel restaurants. "After my wife and I started a family we began buying annual passes and used to take the girls to the park every Sunday after church. My oldest daughter went on to work with the Disney Kids Clubs and also for one contract on one of the Disney Cruise ships. A couple of years ago we purchased the DVD set of the opening day at the park. I
swear I can pick me out of the group of kids on the bridge."
"Disney was a dreamer and a doer ... while the rest of us were talking about the future, he built it. The things
he taught us at Disneyland about street planning, crowd movement, comfort humanity, etc, will influence
builders, architects, urban planners for the next century."
-writer Ray Bradbury
This Day in Disney History - THE FIRST - THE ORIGINAL
Traveling in time since 1999!