Film animation mogul Walt Disney saw a long-held dream become reality when his 160-acre, $17 million theme park called Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California on this day in 1955.
The man whose studios had already created such animated classics as Snow White, Dumbo, Bambi and Fantasia had first envisaged the project in the 1930s after visiting adventure parks with his daughters. Later, he proposed building a park on the lot across the street from his Burbank studios, but city planners refused permission for what was seen to be a project unlikely to succeed.
Undeterred, Disney found land in Anaheim, just 25 miles outside of Los Angeles, and raised funding to build on it, partly by sharing his dream with ABC Television. They agreed to secure loans in return for a one-third share in the park and a weekly Disney television show on the network.
Construction began on July 16, 1954. Disneyland was to feature five distinct themed areas: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA. By working round the clock, constructors had the finished park ready in just a year and a day.
Disneyland opened its doors to an invited audience on Sunday, July 17. 11,000 attendees were expected, but vast numbers of the tickets sent out had been counterfeited, and at least 28,000 turned up on the day, leading to traffic delays and huge queues in 100-degree heat.
Due to the unexpected turnout, food and drink ran out, and a plumbers’ strike meant there was no water in the drinking fountains. Paint on some of the attractions was still wet, and women’s high-heeled shoes sank into fresh asphalt which remained soft in the hot sunshine.
Three of the themed areas were even closed down due to a gas leak. Disney, taking part in a live broadcast of the park’s opening by ABC, was largely unaware of the problems on the day. He would take swift action to ensure they were not repeated, and Disneyland opened to the public on schedule the following day.
It soon began to flourish, and today Disneyland attracts over 16 million visitors a year – a testament to the vision, and popularity, of its founder.