Disneyland set a new standard for theme parks, combining rides and other attractions with famous Disney characters and themes to create a magical, otherworldly setting for family entertainment. The park became a tourist destination, bringing visitors to Southern California, and it helped perpetuate Disney’s brand, demonstrating that the brand could be successful in a variety of arenas.
Anticipating the need for extra revenue to fund his venture, Disney made an agreement with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) to produce the weekly Disneyland television show. This show would help market the park and provide Disney with additional start-up revenue. After securing financial support from his brother Roy O. Disney and other funding sources, Disney eagerly began transforming 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California, into his fantasy land. Construction began on July 21, 1954, with a scheduled opening date planned for just under a year later.
Creating a massive theme park with five distinct areas was no easy feat. The design plan had visitors entering the park at Main Street, U.S.A., a seeming replica of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Midwestern town. From there, guests could choose to explore Frontierland, an Old West pioneer town; Adventureland, which offered a tropical cruise with lifelike mechanical animals; Tomorrowland, which featured a visit to Mars; or Fantasyland, which contained Sleeping Beauty’s castle and amusement rides based on Disney stories and characters. Another popular attraction was the Disneyland railroad that encircled the park.
On Sunday, July 17, 1955, Disneyland celebrated its opening day with a special event for the press and invited guests, and ABC premiered the first episode of Disneyland. Well-known news anchors were on hand to endorse and promote the glamorous new park, but all was not well. Many people showed up with counterfeit tickets, leading to the event becoming overcrowded. Water problems, lengthy lines, food shortages, a gas leak, a plumber’s strike, and problems associated with hot, uncured asphalt plagued the park. The day was a near fiasco, and media coverage was not flattering.
Despite this initial setback, Disneyland’s popularity mounted, and by the second year it was realizing a profit. Fun family entertainment, a strong business commitment to quality control, a well-trained courteous staff, and well-orchestrated marketing transformed a former orange grove into one of the most visited attractions in America. Disneyland spawned other Disney resorts in Florida, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Paris. Disney Parks became a multimillion-dollar operation and a part of American culture.
Bryman, Alan. Disney and His Worlds. New York: Routledge, 1995. _______. The Disneyization of Society. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2004. Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Television broadcasting industry