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The History of Disney Theme Parks...in 130 Classic Photos

Magic Kingdom

When Disneyland opened in 1955, many doubted that it would be a success. They couldn't have been more wrong - and Disney remains the world leader in the theme park industry by a huge distance even now.

Almost six decades have passed since Disneyland welcomed its first guests. Since then, the Disney theme park empire has spread across the globe, with five huge resorts now operational and another under construction. The company's existing parks have evolved, too, with new attractions and entire new lands being added to their line-ups.

Join us on a journey through six decades of Disney theme park history, brought to life in 130 classic photographs.

1. Disneyland construction begins (1954)

Walt Disney at Disneyland
Image © Disney

On July 16, 1954, construction work begins on Walt Disney's first theme park on a 160-acre site near Anaheim, California. Walt himself oversees the construction process.

2. Disneyland opens (1955)

Disneyland opening day

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opens as part of an "International Press Preview". Around 28,000 people pile into the park, many of them using counterfeit tickets. ABC broadcasts the event live, including a host of errors. Drinking fountains were not operational, due to a plumbers' strike, and the asphalt on Main Street, USA was so soft that ladies high-heeled shoes sank into it. Negative press followed, and Walt referred to the day as "Black Sunday". Despite this, attendance levels are very high.

3. Mickey Mouse meets guests at Disneyland (1955)

Mickey Mouse

Source: AngryAP

Here's Mickey on the opening day of Disneyland in 1955. Notice how crude the costume looks!

4. The Skyway opens at Disneyland (1956)

Skyway
Image © Disney

Unlike one of Disney’s movies, which were largely left alone once they were released to theaters, Disneyland could be consistently updated and improved. "It’s something that will never be finished," said Walt. "Something I can keeping developing and adding to."

Walt was true to his word. In June 1956, the Skyway opened, connecting Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Built by Swiss specialist Von Roll, it was the first aerial ropeway of its type in the USA.

5. Disneyland hits 5 million visitors (1956)

Disneyland 1956

Despite the troublesome opening day, Disneyland proved to be an overnight success story. During its first week, 161,657 visitors passed through its gates. Just seven weeks after opening, the park registered its one millionth guest, and by the end of the first year total attendance had reached 3.6 million. By October 1956, 5 million people had visited the park.

6. Monsanto House of the Future opens (1957)

Monsanto House of the Future

Image via Corbis

One of Tomorrowland's first walkthrough attractions, the Monsanto House of the Future operated from 1957 to 1967. The attraction was sponsored by the Monsanto Chemical Company's Plastics Division, and focused on plastic as the building material of the future. The setting was meant to be 1986, although many of the proposed innovations didn't catch on.

7. Alice in Wonderland opens (1958)

Alice in Wonderland

Disneyland expanded its line-up in 1958 with the opening of Alice in Wonderland. Mickey didn't look much better at that stage...Minnie looks particularly ferocious, though.

8. E-Tickets introduced (1959)

E-Ticket

Image: Wikipedia

A new tier of ticket, the "E" Ticket is introduced. Guests still pay per-ride at Disneyland, and the E-Ticket is reserved for the most impressive attractions. The term is still used for high-end attractions today.

9. Disneyland Monorail opens (1959)

Monorail opening

Image via +1 Disney

On one momentous day in 1959, three major new attractions opened at Disneyland. One of these was the Monorail, which Walt hoped would encourage cities around the world to adopt the transport system. Vice President Richard Nixon was on hand to dedicate the attraction.

10. Matterhorn Bobsleds opens (1959)

Matterhorn Bobsleds

Image © Disney

Disney had a long-standing relationship with Arrow Development, which was involved in the manufacture of a number of early Disneyland rides. The company's Imagineers had noted the growing popularity of "wild mouse"-style roller coasters, and inspired by a break in the Swiss Alps, Walt Disney decided to use one to take guests on a journey around the iconic Matterhorn.

An enormous fibreglass replica of the Matterhorn was constructed, with duel coaster tracks being installed by Arrow. The tubular steel design enabled the ride to romp around tight bends with ease, as well as racing through a signature splashdown element.

11. Submarine Voyage opens (1959)

Submarine Voyage

Boasting a total of 8 submarines, the Submarine Voyage carried guests on a trip past animatronic fish and (for a while) models dressed as mermaids. Despite its chronically poor capacity, the ride proved to be a smash hit with guests.

12. Monorail extension (1961)

Disneyland Monorail
Image © Disney

In June 1961, the Disneyland Monorail was extended, with the track now covering a total of 2.5 miles and linking Tomorrowland to the Disneyland Hotel. A new fleet of Mark II monorail trains was also introduced.

13. Flying Saucers open (1961)

Flying Saucers
Image © Disney

The futuristic Flying Saucers ride was installed in Tomorrowland in 1961, having been manufactured by longtime Disney partner Arrow Development and National Research Associates. Like a large-scale version of air hockey, it saw guests boarding personal flying saucers that sat on a cushion of air, and then bouncing into each, bumper cars-style. There was no steering wheel, instead guests simply leaned from side to side to try and guide their saucer.

Unfortunately, the Flying Saucers proved to be troublesome and expensive to maintain. This, coupled with the ride's low capacity, meant that they were scrapped in 1966 as Tomorrowland was converted into New Tomorrowland.

14. Swiss Family Treehouse opens (1962)

Swiss Family Treehouse construction

Image © Disney

Swiss Family Treehouse
Image © Disney

The Swiss Family Treehouse opened at Disneyland in 1962. Concrete roots, steel limbs and 300,000 plastic leaves were used in its creation.

15. Walt Disney decides on Florida for second theme park project (1963)

Walt Disney in Florida
Image © Disney

Following a flight from New Orleans to Burbank, California on November 22, Walt Disney declares: "Well, that's the place - Florida." On the same day, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. Several further visits to the state follow as Walt hunts for the perfect site.

16. New York World's Fair (1964/65)

It's a Small World

Image © Disney

Walt Disney uses the 1964/65 World's Fair to test the East Coast audience's appetite for Disney-style entertainment. His Imagineers build four attractions for the fair: the Carousel of Progress (for General Electric), It's a Small World (for Pepsi-Cola and UNICEF), the Ford Magic Skyway and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (for the State of Illinois).

Three of the attractions are later relocated to Disneyland, and important breakthroughs such as realistic audio-animatronic human characters and a high-capacity boat ride system are made.

17. Disney goes public with Florida Project (1965)

Florida project

Image © Disney

After the Orlando Sentinel reports that the "mystery buyer" of large swathes of land in Central Florida is Disney, Disney breaks cover. A press conference is held with Walt Disney, Roy Disney and Governor Hayden Burns on November 15 to confirm plans for a new theme park near Orlando.

18. New Orleans Square opens at Disneyland (1966)

New Orleans Square
Image © Disney

On July 24, New Orleans Square opens at Disneyland. However, its two major attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, are not yet ready.

19. Walt Disney dies (1966)

Walt Disney grave

On December 15, 1966, Walt Disney passes away. Roy Disney, who had been hoping to retire, decides to stay on and complete the construction of the Florida resort in his honor.

20. The EPCOT film is shown (1967)

Epcot film

Image © Disney

In a video recorded less than two months before his death, Walt Disney describes his plans for the Florida project. As well as a second Disneyland-style theme park, a key element is to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a working city in which future technologies will be developed and tested. The film is shown to members of the Florida legislature at the Park East Theatre in Winter Haven on February 2, 1967.

21. Construction of Magic Kingdom (1967-71)

Liberty Square construction (4)

Construction work on the Magic Kingdom gets underway. The central castle, Cinderella Castle, will stand at 189 feet tall, compared to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland which is just 77 feet tall.

22. Pirates of the Caribbean opens at Disneyland (1967)

Pirates of the Caribbean
Image © Disney via Secret Fun Blog

The groundbreaking Pirates of the Caribbean ride opens at Disneyland, combining the high capacity boat ride system pioneered by It's a Small World with realistic audio-animatronic characters.

23. Club 33 opens at Disneyland (1967)

Club 33

Image © Disney

The private, members-only Club 33 opens at Disneyland, becoming the first location at the park to offer alcoholic beverages.

24. PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress and Adventure Thru Inner Space open (1967)

Adventures Thru Inner Space (4)

Source: ATIS547, Flickr

An updated Tomorrowland opens at Disneyland. Three new attractions are installed: the PeopleMover (which Walt Disney had hoped would form a key part of transporation systems at EPCOT), the Carousel of Progress (relocated from the 1964 New York World's Fair) and Adventure Thru Inner Space (the first dark ride to use the high-capacity Omnimover system).

25. Haunted Mansion opens at Disneyland (1969)

Haunted Mansion

Image via DadLogic.net

Some seven years after construction work began, the Haunted Mansion dark ride opens at Disneyland. The attraction goes on to spawn similar rides at several other Disney parks.

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There are 2 comments.

WOW!

The Park Theater was in Winter Park FL not Winter Haven!!!

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