July 17, 1955: Disneyland Has a Rocky Start, But Ultimately Changes Family Vacations Forever

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Disneyland—the beloved California playground of thrill and imagination for children and adults alike—opened to the public 65 years ago on July 17, 1955.

The concept for Disneyland began when Walt Disney was visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with his daughters. Disney also 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).

Typical amusement parks at the time were dirty and disorganized, known for over-serving patrons at the beer stand and for attracting crime.

While people wrote letters to Disney about visiting the Walt Disney Studios, and enjoying the experience, 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.

So, Disney acquired 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California.

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.

Construction began on July 16, 1954 and cost $17 million to complete

Unfortunately, the event, which opened on July 17, 1955, was nothing short of a total disaster. Overcrowding, awful traffic, poor plumbing and a gas leak forced operators to close down three of the five “lands” just hours after the park opened.

In later years, Disney and his 1955 executives referred to July 17, 1955, as "Black Sunday."

Nevertheless, Disneyland recovered, and over the decades has become famous for attractions such as The Space Mountain, It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland, along with Disney California Adventure, was closed on March 14, 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It remains closed for the time being.

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