See vintage Disneyland, when the magical theme park first opened in the ’50s

Vintage Disneyland, when Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California first opened in 1955

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When Southern California’s Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, in Anaheim, not only were there thousands of kids and their parents in attendance, there were also hordes of media types.

Here’s a story from Life magazine about vintage Disneyland — specifically, the day Walt Disney’s first amazing theme park opened — when all you needed to make some unforgettable memories was a ticket book (and the patience to wait in long lines).

And toward the end of this page, don’t miss reading about Walt Disney’s personal tour of vintage Disneyland just before the theme park opened!

Vintage Disneyland souvenir map from 1955

Disneyland opens for business

Uncle Walt packs his new park with the stuff children’s dreams are made on

It may be more than the kids can bear. It has an Adventureland from Tahiti, a Frontierland entered through the log gates of an old fort complete with a Davy Crockett museum, a Fantasyland full of Snow White, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and all their associates, and a Tomorrowland with a Space Port.

Walt Disney arranged it all, of course, and then named it Disneyland. Sprawled over 160 acres at Anaheim, Calif., 23 miles southeast of Los Angeles, it is easily the most lavish amusement park on earth.

The principal problem seemed to be getting through the place. On opening day three weeks ago, a mob of small and large fry started lining up at 2 am, eight hours before the turnstiles began clicking.

By midafternoon, there were 20,000 paying customers milling about the “lands” and queued up to travel over or around them in such vehicular wonders as whirling teacups and Mr Toad’s motorcar.

Disney had expected that $2 would see a child through enough of his $17 million wonderland, but mothers said twice that was needed to keep any enterprising small boy pacified. They added, as they emerged spent and spinning, that it was probably well worth it.

Disneyland opens - Walt Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California 1955 (1)

Above: Cups and saucers filled with squealing children as paying guests whirl through park’s Fantasyland at Disney’s “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.”

Vintage Disneyland: Adventureland’s Jungle Island

A quizzical giraffe peers down at children in sightseeing riverboats as they circle Jungle Island in Adventureland, filled with mechanical wildlife.

Hungry hippopotamus surfaces and snaps open his hydraulically-controlled jaws. Passing boat triggered a release which brought him into sight.

MORE: The Home of the Future at Disneyland was how the ’50s imagined the ’80s

Fantasyland’s Castle

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Fantasyland is overrun by children crossing the drawbridge over a moat. Inside, Disney plans a model torture chamber.

Disneyland opens - Walt Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California 1955 (2)

Vintage Disneyland: Frontierland’s Painted Desert

Painted Desert in Frontierland is populated by Indians, cowboys, cattle and horses. Its best rides are by stagecoach, Conestoga wagon and buckboard.

Here dude ranchers ford a stream in a wagon as Indians line banks, standing motionless to avoid scaring horses, who wrecked one stagecoach out of fright.

ALSO SEE: Classic Walt Disney Home Video VHS movies & short collections from the ’80s & ’90s

Disneyland opens - Walt Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California 1955 (3)

YouTube video

Vintage Disneyland: Other adventures for kids

Children’s saloon, the Golden Horseshoe, is operated by a soft drink concessionaire who sells only sandwiches and his own beverage. To entertain young tosspots, Disney has provided a 45-minute frontier saloon show with cancan dancers, Irish ballad singers, and a hostess named Slue Foot Sue.

Circus Train is an exact replica of Casey Jr. used in Disney’s movie Dumbo. Beneath it, in Disney-dredged waterway, passes a boatload of canal riders.

Disneyland opens - Walt Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California 1955 (4)

Vintage Disneyland: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Fantasyland is overrun by children crossing the drawbridge over moat. Inside, Disney plans a model torture chamber.

Disneyland opens - Walt Disney's magical new theme park in Southern California 1955 (5)

ALSO SEE: How Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion has delivered thrills & chills since 1969

Vintage Disneyland and the magic of happiness: Scenes from the 1950s

Main Street, USA – Carefree Corner (1957)

Can you put yourself in this picture? Your whole family at Disneyland! They call it “the happiest place on earth.”

And with reason — for something wonderful happens here. Everybody feels it — some magic in the place simply whisks away all cares.

1957 Disneyland

Vintage Disneyland: Tomorrowland (1957)

Ever see a family so thrilled? They’re finding out all about space from the Space Man himself.

1957 Disneyland family Tomorrowland

MORE: See Disneyland’s original Pirates of the Caribbean ride, before the changes

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the entrance to Fantasyland (1957)

1957 Disneyland castle

Vintage Disneyland attraction: Steamboat Mark Twain (1957)

1957 Disneyland steamboat

MORE: These vintage Disney book/record combos from the ’70s will take you back

Disneyland’s Skyway Ride (1958)

1958 Disney Skyway ride

Dumbo ride at vintage Disneyland (1958)

Every family man wants his wife and children to enjoy a wonderful today, unclouded by worry about tomorrow.

A day in Disneyland is just such a wonderful today, where folks young and old can lose themselves in a world where everything is fun, everyone’s a friend, and nobody worries.

1958 Disneyland Dumbo ride

Whirling teacups ride at old-school Disneyland (1958)

Every father would like to take his family on a whirl through Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. And at home, he wants to enjoy the daily whirl with that same wonderful freedom from care.

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DON’T MISS: See what Disney World in Orlando, Florida, looked like when it first opened in 1971

1958 Disneyland teacup ride

See Walt Disney gave a personal tour of Vintage Disneyland before it opened in 1955

Here’s a ‘preview’ of a fantastic new playground — with its creator as guide

ANAHEIM, CALIF. No figure in the world today is closer to the hearts of children than a 54-year-old boy named Walt Disney.

Despite his ever-growing fame and current financial solidity (thanks particularly to his Disneyland TV series and the Davy Crockett boom it touched off), the king of the animated cartoon has never lost contact with the dreams youngsters dream.

Latest proof is what he considers his outstanding (and potentially most profitable) project yet: Disneyland.

See Walt Disney gave a personal tour of Vintage Disneyland before it opened in 1955

Located on 160 acres here, 22 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Disneyland is scheduled to open next week (July 18). it will be, Disney says, “the most fabulous playground on earth — something of a fair, a city from the Arabian Nights, a dream that I’ve had for years, a dream that’s actually coming to life.”

To give its readers an advance look at this multimillion-dollar dream, PARADE recently asked Disney to guide two young Californians — Alane Harlan, 9, of Culver City, and Derek Norcross, 8, of Los Angeles — through Disneyland.

MORE: Vintage Disneyland tickets: The A B C D E rides and attractions at the Magic Kingdom (1959-1982)

Walt Disney personal tour Vintage Disneyland before opening 1955

Disney happily agreed to take the time from his numerous other interests.

“Great idea!” he beamed. “We’re still in construction — but let’s go!”

So they did. And the following dialogue ensued:

WALT DISNEY: Before we start, let me tell you’ something about our overall plan.

Disneyland is divided into four main sections: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Adventureland. Each has separate exhibits, rides and restaurants… Right now, we’re standing on Main Street, U.S.A. This is just the way a small town looked 50 or 60 years ago.

ALANE: Excuse me, Mr. Disney, but how much does this place cost?

DISNEY: About $17 million.

ALANE: Doesn’t your wife yell at you for spending all that money?

DISNEY: She’s used to it!

DEREK: But how much does it cost to get into Disneyland?

DISNEY: Fifty cents for children under 12. One dollar for adults.

ALSO SEE: Tuna recipes from vintage Disneyland’s Pirate Ship restaurant (1955-1956)

Walt Disney personal tour Vintage Disneyland before opening 1955 (3)

Now, let’s start with Tomorrowland…

In Tomorrowland, Walt pointed out the various commercial exhibits sponsored by leading corporations (Disneyland as a whole is compounded of commercialism, fun and information), then let Derek and Alane drive scaled-down versions of the automobile of the future.

At the “Space Terminal,” the youngsters boarded a passenger rocket for a “round trip to the moon,” then visited the Super-Automatic Restaurant.

In Fantasyland, the visitors took a mining cart to the diamond mine of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, crawled through a large hole leading to Alice in Wonderland, wound up on a water slide with Monstro the Whale. Then the questions began again.

ALANE: How late will Disneyland stay open, Mr. Disney?

DISNEY: You two kids call me Walt. In the summer months, darling, it’ll remain open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. In fall and winter, we’ll keep it closed on Mondays.

ALSO SEE: Disney’s Old Yeller: The classic movie about the best doggone dog in the west (1958)

Walt Disney personal tour Vintage Disneyland before opening 1955 (1)

A hotel with 650 rooms

DEREK: Y’know, Walt, my father says you’re gonna make a mint from the Disneyland Hotel. Where’s that?

DISNEY: Right opposite the main exit, Derek. And I don’t know if anyone’s going to make a mint out of it. But it sure is a beaut. It cost $10 million, and has 650 rooms.

DEREK: Will that be enough for all the people who’ll come?

DISNEY: Maybe not. We expect five million folks to visit Disneyland the first year!

ALANE: My father says this whole place was once an orange grove.

DISNEY: He’s right. We had to remove 12,000 trees to make room for these buildings and exhibits.

DEREK: Do you think you’ll get everything finished on time?

DISNEY: We’ll never get it finished. We’ll be adding new games, new rides, new exhibits all the time. Let’s go over to Frontierland and Adventureland, and I’ll show you what I mean…

Walt and his guests entered Frontierland through the gates of an old log fort. Immediately the children asked to see Davy Crockett.

Disney explained that Fess Parker, the actor who plays Crockett, was out on tour, but would return to Disneyland for the opening-day ceremonies. Then he led his charges to the shooting gallery, where they aimed authentic buffalo guns at replicas of wild animals.

The “Iron Horse,” an old-time train, carried them around the perimeter of the park. They also climbed aboard a Wells Fargo stagecoach and the Mark Twain, a 105-foot paddle-wheeler that cruises on a man-made lake.

In Adventureland, they took the Explorer’s Boat Trip through the “Tropics,” then stopped at the “Tropical Saloon” for berry beverages. (Despite more than 20 different restaurants, Disneyland sells no alcoholic drinks. )

MORE: Recipes from vintage Disneyland: Party pancakes in chocolate, strawberry & eggnog flavors (1956)

Walt Disney personal tour Vintage Disneyland before opening 1955 (2)

By then, Derek and Alane were dog-tired. Not their guide. As if recharged with energy by the wonder of it all, he went right on explaining things.

DISNEY: Disneyland is also going to be home base for my television programs. Starting October 3, I’ve got a new one coming up — The Mickey Mouse Club.

DEREK: How do you find time to do all these things? Movies — cartoons — television — Disneyland — and now more television!

DISNEY: Well, I just like to keep going.

ALANE: You know, Walt, you’re a lot like me. I no sooner get one toy than I want to start playing with something else…

At that, Walter Elias Disney smiled. And his smile, boyish and contagious, was like a lamp lighting up a room. “That’s me all right,” he admitted.

VIDEO: Vintage Disneyland as it appeared shortly after it first opened

YouTube video

ALSO SEE: It’s a Small World after all: About Disneyland’s hugely-popular attraction for little Mouseketeers (1960s)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. When I see pictures from this era, I’m always stunned by how dressed up everyone is. The women are wearing rather fancy dresses, and the men are wearing dress shirts and jackets. Suffice it to say that if you went to any theme park dressed like that today, people would think you were up to something… We just got back from Disney World, and t-shirts (preferably matching) and shorts were the order of the day. It was very hot, so many of the women were just wearing sports bras.

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