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.
Walter E. Disney, July 17, 1955
Walt Disney (center) showing Orange County officials plans for Disneyland's layout, December 1954
The concept for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters Diane and Sharon. While watching them ride the merry-go-round, he came up with the idea of a place where adults and their children could go and have fun together, though his dream lay dormant for many years. He may have also been influenced by his father's memories of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago (his father worked at the Exposition). The Midway Plaisance there included a set of attractions representing various countries from around the world and others representing various periods of man; it also included many rides including the first Ferris wheel, a "sky" ride, a passenger train that circled the perimeter, and a Wild West Show. Another likely influence was Benton Harbor, Michigan's nationally famous House of David's Eden Springs Park. Disney visited the park and ultimately bought one of the older miniature trains originally used there; the colony had the largest miniature railway setup in the world at the time. The earliest documented draft of Disney's plans was sent as a memo to studio production designer Dick Kelsey on August 31, 1948, where it was referred to as a "Mickey Mouse Park", based on notes Disney made during his and Ward Kimball's trip to Chicago Railroad Fair the same month, with a two-day stop in
Henry Ford's Museum and Greenfield Village, a place with attractions like a Main Street and steamboat rides, which he had visited eight years earlier.
While people wrote letters to Disney about visiting the Walt Disney Studios, he realized that a functional movie studio had little to offer to visiting fans, and began to foster ideas of building a site near the Burbank studios for tourists to visit. His ideas evolved to a small play park with a boat ride and other themed areas. The initial concept, the Mickey Mouse Park, started with an 8-acre (3.2 ha) plot across Riverside Drive. He started to visit other parks for inspiration and ideas, including Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Efteling in the Netherlands, and Greenfield Village, Playland, and Children's Fairyland in the United States; and (according to the film director Ken Annakin, in his autobiography 'So You want to be a film director?'), Bekonscot Model Village & Railway, Beaconsfield, England. His designers began working on concepts, though the project grew much larger than the land could hold. Disney hired Harrison Price from Stanford Research Institute to gauge the proper area to locate the theme park based on the area's potential growth. Based on Price's analysis (for which he would be recognized as a Disney Legend in 2003), Disney acquired 160 acres (65 ha) of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles in neighboring Orange County. The Burbank site originally considered by Disney is now home to Walt Disney Animation Studios and ABC Studios.
Difficulties in obtaining funding prompted Disney to investigate new methods of fundraising, and he decided to create a show named Disneyland. It was broadcast on then-fledgling ABC. In return, the network agreed to help finance the park. For its first five years of operation, Disneyland was owned by Disneyland, Inc., which was jointly owned by Walt Disney Productions, Walt Disney, Western Publishing and ABC. In addition, Disney rented out many of the shops on Main Street, U.S.A. to outside companies. By 1960, Walt Disney Productions bought out all other shares, a partnership which would eventually lead to the Walt Disney Corporation's acquisition of ABC in the mid-1990s. In 1952, the proposed project had been called Disneylandia, but Disney followed ABC's advice and changed it to Disneyland two years later, when excavation of the site began. Construction began on July 16, 1954 and cost $17 million to complete. The park was opened one year and one day later. U.S. Route 101 (later Interstate 5) was under construction at the same time just north of the site; in preparation for the traffic Disneyland was expected to bring, two more lanes were added to the freeway before the park was finished.
Disneyland was dedicated at an "International Press Preview" event held on Sunday, July 17, 1955, which was open only to invited guests and the media. Although 28,000 people attended the event, only about half of those were invitees, the rest having purchased counterfeit tickets, or even sneaked into the park by climbing over the fence. The following day, it opened to the public, featuring twenty attractions. The Special Sunday events, including the dedication, were televised nationwide and anchored by three of Walt Disney's friends from Hollywood: Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan. ABC broadcast the event live, during which many guests tripped over the television camera cables. In Frontierland, a camera caught Cummings kissing a dancer. When Disney started to read the plaque for Tomorrowland, he read partway then stopped when a technician off-camera said something to him, and after realizing he was on-air, said, "I thought I got a signal", and began the dedication from the start. At one point, while in Fantasyland, Linkletter tried to give coverage to Cummings, who was on the pirate ship. He was not ready, and tried to give the coverage back to Linkletter, who had lost his microphone. Cummings then did a play-by-play of him trying to find it in front of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Traffic was delayed on the two-lane Harbor Boulevard. Famous figures who were scheduled to show up every two hours showed up all at once. The temperature was an unusually high 101 °F (38 °C), and because of a local plumbers' strike, Disney was given a choice of having working drinking fountains or running toilets. He chose the latter, leaving many drinking fountains dry. This generated negative publicity since Pepsi sponsored the park's opening; disappointed guests believed the inoperable fountains were a cynical way to sell soda, while other vendors ran out of food. The asphalt that had been poured that morning was soft enough to let women's high-heeled shoes sink into it. Some parents threw their children over the crowd's shoulders to get them onto rides, such as the King Arthur Carrousel. In later years, Disney and his 1955 executives referred to July 17, 1955, as "Black Sunday". After the extremely negative press from the preview opening, Walt Disney invited attendees back for a private "second day" to experience Disneyland properly.
At the time, and during the lifetimes of Walt and Roy Disney, July 17 was considered merely a preview, with July 18 the official opening day. Since then, aided by memories of the television broadcast, the company has adopted July 17 as the official date, the one commemorated every year as Disneyland's birthday.
1950s and 1960s
Disneyland aerial view, 1963, which includes the new Melody Land Theater at the top of the photo
In September 1959, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev spent thirteen days in the United States, with two requests: to visit Disneyland and to meet John Wayne, Hollywood's top box-office draw. Due to the Cold War tension and security concerns, he was famously denied an excursion to Disneyland. The Shah of Iran and Empress Farah were invited to Disneyland by Walt Disney in the early 1960s. There was moderate controversy over the lack of African American employees. As late as 1963, civil rights activists were pressuring Disneyland to hire black people, with executives responding that they would "consider" the requests. The park did however hire people of Asian descent, such as Ty Wong and Bob Kuwahara.
As part of the Casa de Fritos operation at Disneyland, "Doritos" (Spanish for "little golden things") were created at the park to recycle old tortillas that would have been discarded. The Frito-Lay Company saw the popularity of the item and began selling them regionally in 1964, and then nationwide in 1966.
In the late 1990s, work began to expand the one-park, one-hotel property. Disneyland Park, the Disneyland Hotel, the site of the original parking lot, and acquired surrounding properties were earmarked to become part of the Disneyland Resort. At that time, the property saw the addition of the Disney California Adventure theme park, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex named Downtown Disney, a remodeled Disneyland Hotel, the construction of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and the acquisition and re-branding of the Pan Pacific Hotel as Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. The park was renamed "Disneyland Park" to distinguish it from the larger complex under construction. Because the existing parking lot (south of Disneyland) was repurposed by these projects, the six-level, 10,250-space Mickey and Friends parking structure was constructed in the northwest corner. Upon completion in 2000, it was the largest parking structure in the United States.
The park's management team during the mid-1990s was a source of controversy among fans and employees. In an effort to boost profits, various changes were begun by then-executives Cynthia Harriss and Paul Pressler. While their initiatives provided a short-term increase in shareholder returns, they drew widespread criticism for their lack of foresight. The retail backgrounds of Harriss and Pressler led to a gradual shift in Disneyland's focus from attractions to merchandising. Outside consultants McKinsey & Company were brought in to help streamline operations, resulting in many changes and cutbacks. After nearly a decade of deferred maintenance, the original park was showing signs of neglect. Fans of the park decried the perceived decline in customer value and park quality and rallied for the dismissal of the management team.
An aerial view of Disneyland in 2004
Matt Ouimet, the former president of the Disney Cruise Line, was promoted to assume leadership of the Disneyland Resort in late 2003. Shortly afterward, he selected Greg Emmer as Senior Vice President of Operations. Emmer was a long-time Disney cast member who had worked at Disneyland in his youth prior to moving to Florida and held multiple executive leadership positions at the Walt Disney World Resort. Ouimet quickly set about reversing certain trends, especially concerning cosmetic maintenance and a return to the original infrastructure maintenance schedule, in hopes of restoring Disneyland's former safety record. Similarly to Disney himself, Ouimet and Emmer could often be seen walking the park during business hours with members of their respective staff, wearing cast member name badges, standing in line for attractions, and welcoming guests' comments. In July 2006, Ouimet left The Walt Disney Company to become president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Soon after, Ed Grier, executive managing director of Walt Disney Attractions Japan, was named president of the resort. In October 2009, Grier announced his retirement, and was replaced by George Kalogridis.
The "Happiest Homecoming on Earth" was an eighteen-month-long celebration (held through 2005 and 2006) of the fiftieth anniversary of the Disneyland Park, also celebrating Disneyland's milestone throughout Disney parks worldwide. In 2004, the park underwent major renovations in preparation, restoring many attractions, notably Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. Attractions that had been in the park on opening day had one ride vehicle painted gold, and the park was decorated with fifty Golden Mickey Ears. The celebration started on May 5, 2005, and ended on September 30, 2006, and was followed by the "Year of a Million Dreams" celebration, lasting twenty-seven months and ending on December 31, 2008.
Beginning on January 1, 2010, Disney Parks hosted the Give a Day, Get a Disney Day volunteer program, in which Disney encouraged people to volunteer with a participating charity and receive a free Disney Day at either a Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World park. On March 9, 2010, Disney announced that it had reached its goal of one million volunteers and ended the promotion to anyone who had not yet registered and signed up for a specific volunteer situation.
In July 2015, Disneyland celebrated its 60th Diamond Celebration anniversary. Disneyland Park introduced the Paint the Night parade and Disneyland Forever fireworks show, and Sleeping Beauty Castle is decorated in diamonds with a large "60" logo. The Diamond Celebration concluded in September 2016 and the whole decoration of the anniversary was removed around Halloween 2016.