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The Disneyland entrance in all its mid-century glory. The park officially opened on July 17, 1955, to a crowd of 28,000 eager visitors.Gorillas Don't Blog
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Tomorrowland was one of the theme parks in Disneyland and featured Disney's big ideas for the future. In his own words, "Tomorrow can be a wonderful age... The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future."gameraboy/Flickr
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Walt Disney enjoys a moment with his grandson at one of Disneyland's food stands, circa 1955. Gene Lester/Getty Images
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Tomorrowland in 1968.gameraboy/Flickr
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Atomic-age rockets adorn this ride. gameraboy/Flickr
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An "Alice in Wonderland" attraction.roadsidepictures/Flickr
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Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Toy soldiers put on a holiday show in 1961. Gorillas Don't Blog
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Many saw everything Disneyland had to offer via the train, which snaked through park. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Replica "Casey Jr." train from the movie Dumbo with Mickey himself playing engineer. Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Disneyland’s Main Street in 1960. Gorillas Don't Blog
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Actor James Garner and his stepdaughter, Kim, enjoy the Dumbo ride. Dec. 12, 1957. ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images
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A Mickey Mouse face made of flowers greeted excited children entering the massive park. Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Walt Disney shares a treat with Elaine Long, one of the children granted early access to the park. Bettman/Corbis
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Entry point for the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, 1955. Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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The Storybook Canal and the Disneyland Skyway helped ferry visitors across the park.
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The famous "It’s A Small World" ride in its early years.Gorillas Don't Blog
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The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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An aerial shot of Disneyland's Mad Tea Party ride in 1965.
Stuff From the Park
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Disneyland holds many daytime parades, many of which aired on live television.Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in 1960.Viewliner Ltd.
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Children cross the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty's castle as swans swim in the moat's water below on opening day.Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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The Snow White ride scared and thrilled early visitors.Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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A performance of the Golden Horseshoe Revue at the park's Horseshoe Saloon in Frontierland.gameraboy/Flickr
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In September 1959, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev spent thirteen days in the United States with two requests: to meet actor John Wayne and to visit Disneyland.Loomis Dean—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Vesey Walker, a band director that many assume was the inspiration for The Music Man, conducts the Disneyland Band. Gorillas Don't Blog
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Walt Disney at the Disneyland Opening Ceremony rehearsal in 1955. Vintage Everyday
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Walt Disney signing autographs in the 1960s.gameraboy/Flickr
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When the park opened in 1955 it featured Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street U.S.A., which was modeled after Disney's hometown in Missouri.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Actor Ronald Reagan gave a speech on the opening day.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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People rest and grab a bite to eat at Tomorrowland's Space Port during the opening day festivities.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher take a ride with two of Taylor's sons. Jan. 22, 1959. Taylor later celebrated her 60th birthday at the park in a private party of 1,000 guests.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The first of many parades at Disneyland on the park's opening day. Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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A large crowd of people wait to get into Disneyland on opening day. Many entered by way of counterfeit tickets or by climbing over the park's fences.USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
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Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, future Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, take a moment during their tour of Disneyland to enjoy some juice, 1961. Wikimedia Commons
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Walt Disney displays a model replica of the Matterhorn attraction. Ultimately, the completed mountain would equal the size of a 14-story building. Sleeping Beauty's castle is used for size comparison, circa 1950s. Los Angeles Public Library
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Vice President Richard Nixon, his family, and Walt Disney cheer participants in a parade that inaugurated $6,000,000 worth of new attractions at Disneyland, 1959.Los Angeles Public Library
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The Disneyland parking lot is packed to the gills on the park's opening day. July 17, 1955. USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
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A technician works on the animatronic pirates for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. July 1955. Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Ted Kennedy stands in front of Disneyland's Matterhorn during a visit to the park in November 1960. Disney via Getty Images
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Cups and saucers filled with children spin at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party attraction in the Fantasyland portion of the park on opening day.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Mermaids were once a fixture at Disneyland’s Submarine Lagoon. Dreaming of Disney
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Singer Dick Haymes and his wife, actress Rita Hayworth, spend an afternoon at Disneyland. July 30, 1955.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A long line of guests wait their turn to ride the park's Autopia attraction on opening day.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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Actor Eddie Fisher also hosted the park's opening day festivities.
In this photo, Fisher helps spaceman Don MacDonald enjoy a sip of Coke while actress Debbie Reynolds looks on in amusement. Bettmann/Getty Images
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A lucky child has the privilege of leading a group of baby elephants to the Old-Fashioned Circus Parade, 1955.Los Angeles Public Library
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Walt Disney examines a model of a sea serpent to be used in the Submarine Voyage ride, circa 1950s. Los Angeles Public Library
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Actress Shirley Temple unties the ribbon to mark the opening of Sleeping Beauty's castle as Walt Disney looks on, 1957.Los Angeles Public Library
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Burbank engineers examine a model for a proposed monorail system at the park, April 1962.Los Angeles Public Library
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Singer Nat King Cole and his son stroll in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle during a visit in 1963. Los Angeles Public Library
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California Governor Goodwin Knight and Walt Disney ride the park's train on opening day.USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
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A father and daughter prepare for their turn on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on opening day.Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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A packed Mark Twain Riverboat ride makes its way down river on opening day. The ship later sank that same day.Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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A crowded raft shuttles people over to Tom Sawyer Island, circa 1960.Wikimedia Commons
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Boxer Lionel Rose spars with Goofy during a visit to Disneyland in August of 1968.Los Angeles Public Library
Since it first opened its gates on July 17, 1955, Disneyland has become one of the most iconic amusement parks on the planet. Dubbed "the happiest place on Earth," over 750 million people have visited Disneyland since its opening day.
The brainchild of Walt Disney himself, the park came to be after Disney spent an afternoon with his two daughters at Los Angeles' Griffith Park in the early 1930s. While watching his girls enjoy the park's carousel, Disney had the idea of creating a park full of rides that an entire family could enjoy.
It took two decades of planning. Disney borrowed against his own life insurance and sold off some property, even as others marked his project as a premature failure. Some in Hollywood dubbed the park "Walt's folly."
Since his reputation was on the line and his finances at stake, Disney set the lofty goal of opening Disneyland a year after construction on it started. It's likely he knew this would be a stretch, but he wished upon a star — and his wish came true.
Many Thought The Ambitious Park Would Fail
The construction of Schweitzer Falls, in vintage Disneyland, 1955.
The original park was much smaller than modern-day Disneyland and was therefore constructed rather quickly.
Disney had shared his first ideas for what the park might look like with production designer Dick Kelsey on Aug. 31, 1948. These were based on concepts that Disney had for a park then-known as "Mickey Mouse Park."
Disney also managed to secure a partnership with the television network ABC, which aired the progress of his park in a bid to drum up attention over it. Tropical jungles emerged, a frontier fort went up, and Sleeping Beauty's ornate castle, which was modeled on Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle began to replace the orange groves on the Anaheim lot.
But progress was sporadic, and it soon became apparent that the one-year construction timeline was a little too ambitious for such a monumental project — and issues kept cropping up.
"A few weeks before the opening, there was a major meeting," chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, Dick Nunis, explained. "There was a plumbing strike. I'll never forget this. I happened to be in the meeting. So the contractor was telling Walt, 'Walt, there aren't enough hours in the day to finish the restrooms and to finish all the drinking fountains.' And this is classic Walt. He said, 'Well, you know they could drink Coke and Pepsi, but they can't pee in the streets. Finish the restrooms.'"
True to Disney's plan, the park opened just one year and one day after work began. It wasn't quite finished, but according to Disney, it may never be truly finished.
Indeed, Disney noted, "Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world".
Problems Abounded At Disneyland's Opening Day
ABC's complete footage of opening day at Disneyland, 1955.
Opening day was initially intended to be a smaller event — tickets were sold by "invite-only" and not available to the general public — but bootleg tickets circulated widely. The planned-for 6,000 guests transformed into over 28,000.
In addition to the counterfeit tickets, people clambered over Disneyland's fences thanks to a wily entrepreneur charging $5 for the use of his ladder.
Many other things went wrong on Disneyland's first day of operation. The water fountains didn't work, and the overflow of people wiped out concession stands within hours. The weather was so hot that day that newly poured asphalt softened, trapping many a high-heel in black goo.
Some rides and attractions weren't completed, others suffered breakdowns, and the overcrowded Mark Twain Riverboat in Frontierland sank in the mud.
"It took about 20 to 30 minutes to get it fixed and back on the rail and it came chugging in," Terry O'Brien, the opening day ride operator for the Mark Twain Riverboat recalled. "As soon as it pulled up to the landing, all the people rushed to the side to get off, and the boat tipped into the water again, so they all had to wade off through the water, and some of them were pretty mad."
Yet, people didn't leave. Despite all these catastrophes, morning ticketholders remained through the afternoon, making the park even more crowded as the day went on.
The Park Quickly Became 'The Happiest Place On Earth'
ThomasHawk/Flickr Monsanto's "House of the Future" in the futuristic Tomorrowland section of Disneyland. The house was supposedly supposed to demonstrate the many uses of plastic.
Meanwhile, ABC broadcast the park's grand opening live. An estimated 70 million people (the country had a population of 165 million at the time) tuned in to watch.
Walt Disney presided over opening ceremonies and gave a speech. One of his co-hosts was none other than the actor (and future president), Ronald Reagan.
The fanfare also included a benediction by a Protestant minister and the playing of the national anthem. There was even a flyover by the Air National Guard of California.
Special guests included friends and family of employees and the press, as well as some celebrities. The likes of Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, and others appeared on the guest list.
The original park featured themed sections, including Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street U.S.A., which was modeled after Disney's hometown in Missouri. The park has since added Critterland, Mickey's Toontown, New Orleans Square, and Star Wars: Galaxy Edge's.
Once the dust of opening day settled, Disneyland stole people's hearts. The park was indeed one of the happiest places on Earth. These vintage Disneyland photos serve as a reminder of just how iconic the park has been in American culture.