64 years ago today, Disneyland opened its gates for the first time. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to believe what a gamble Disneyland was. Walt Disney had to form an entirely new company to build the park because the Walt Disney Studio had little confidence such an unlikely venture would succeed. Today, we know just how successful Disney has been in the theme park business and it all seems like it was a foregone conclusion.
But that wasn’t the case on July 17, 1955. After Walt gave his dedication and the first batch of guests entered the park, things went pretty crazy. It’s far from shocking that the untested theme park had some issues, but the opening of Disneyland was almost complete madness. Nearly all of them were brought about by the fact that, even on day one, Disneyland was incredibly popular.
Today, faking your way into Disneyland is essentially impossible. Tickets are digitally scanned and your face is attached to them, so nobody else can use them. However, 1955 tickets were a bit easier to fabricate. The first day of Disneyland wasn’t actually open to the general public, but instead was an invite only affair. Still, 15,000 people were expected, and nearly double that reportedly entered the park thanks to fake tickets. Some people also simply hopped the fence.
Beyond that, those who entered in the morning were expected to leave in the afternoon to make way for a second group, but not everybody in the early group left, making things even more crowded. This lesson would be remembered 64 years later during Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge's soft opening, which, from all accounts, worked much better.
Food and Drink Shortages
Likely because Disneyland was far more crowded than it was supposed to be on opening day, the park apparently ran out of most food and drink. Everything was gone within the first few hours, which meant those people not arriving until the afternoon couldn’t get anything.
Today, food and drink is essentially an attraction unto itself, so the idea of not having enough seems insane. Unless, of course, the plan is to make the food scarce and something of a collector's item. That's pretty standard.
Several attractions that were part of Disneyland’s opening day are still with us today. Autopia, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Storybook Canal Boats (then called Canal Boats of the World) were all there on day one. However, not all the attractions survived their first contact with crowds.
Attractions like Rocket to the Moon and Peter Pan’s Flight broke down on the first day. Dumbo: The Flying Elephant and the Casey Jr. Circus Train were supposed to be day one attractions, but both would be closed on July 17 and would open a short time later once they were actually ready. The worst problem, however, came when the Mark Twain Riverboat was filled to over capacity. The boat essentially sank in the lagoon, and it reportedly took around half an hour to get the boat back on track, literally.
All of the other problems could have been potentially manageable, but not every problem Disneyland had was a problem the park could do anything about. Temperatures hit 100 degrees in Anaheim 64 years ago today, and while heat is no stranger to Southern California, it doesn’t usually get quite that hot. The always sunny, but never too hot, climate of the area was part of the reason Disneyland was put in Anaheim in the first place.
One can assume that, combined with the other problems, the heat only made tempers flare. Not being able to get a glass of lemonade can get annoying, not being able to get one when you're sweating in 100 degrees is that much worse.
Of course, all of these issues are only a problem for those who actually made it to Disneyland, which wasn’t easy. As you can imagine, a lot of people wanted to check out this new, first of its kind theme park, which made traffic a serious problem.
There was a seven mile back up on the Santa Ana Freeway, which, modern standards notwithstanding, was unusual for that part of Southern California. Anaheim was not nearly as developed then as it is today; much of that is thanks to Disneyland itself, and the roads simply weren’t made to handle the number of people trying to make their way to the happiest place on earth.
There Was A Gas Leak
And then there was the fact that the place could have burned down on opening day. Work on Disneyland was being done right up until the minute that television cameras started filming, and maybe that's why there was a gas leak that forced the closure of Fantasyland, Adventureland and Frontierland for a few hours. The leak actually caused flames near Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
Gas pipes weren't the only ones causing problems. A plumbers strike at the time forced Walt Disney to choose between working restrooms and working water fountains. Clearly, he choose functioning toilets, but the lack of water just added to the frustration brought by the heat and lack of other drinks.
Mickey Mouse Was A Terrifying Monster
Seriously, look at those costumes. A lot of young kids are terrified by costumed characters today, but this one would likely scare more grown men and women.
The fact is that when Disneyland opened they didn't have character costumes of their own. Instead costumes used for the first generation of Disney on Ice were borrowed for the occasion. The wide field of view required by the ice skaters required the massive holes in the face and these costumes were mostly designed to be viewed from a distance, not close up.
In 64 years, a lot has changed at Disneyland. There’re new attractions, new lands and a lot more people, though fewer than usual at the moment. However, based on what happened with the recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it seems like crowd control is something Disneyland has very nearly mastered. Happy Birthday, Disneyland!
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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