Disneyland History: Timetable of Events by Year

Disneyland first opened on July 17, 1955, and has since been a magical place for people of all backgrounds to enjoy. Over the years, Disneyland has expanded and added new attractions and experiences, making it one of the best amusement parks in the world. In this article, we will explore Disneyland’s history by year and date, sharing the fascinating Disneyland facts that have made the park so special. Whether you’re an avid Disney fan or simply curious about this iconic park, we’re confident you’ll find this historical information intriguing!

The 1940s: Walt Disney and the Concept for Disneyland

Walt Disney first conceptualized Disneyland in the 1940s. Seeing his daughters ride the merry-go-round at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Walt Disney got the idea to create an amusement park where children and adults could have fun together.

On August 31, 1948, Walt outlined his plans for a park in a memo to studio production designer Dick Kelsey, calling it “Mickey Mouse Park.” His original concept evolved into a small play park with themed areas and a boat ride. Despite having the idea in the late 40s, Disney didn’t act on it until the 50s.

1953: Land for Disneyland is Purchased

The “Mickey Mouse Park” project became known as “Disneylandia” before becoming “Disneyland.” In the first five years of its existence, Disneyland was owned by Disneyland, Inc., a newly formed joint venture between ABC, Western Publishing, Walt Disney Productions, and Walt Disney.

Disney intended to build the park on an eight-acre plot across from his Walt Disney Studios (Burbank, CA). However, as the project grew in size and scope, the investors eventually decided more land was necessary. The group purchased 160 acres of orange groves and walnut trees in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles.

1954: Construction on Disneyland Begins

Construction on Disneyland began on July 16, 1954. The park was opened to the public just one year and one day after construction began. Disneyland cost $17 million to construct. Adjusted for inflation, it would have cost approximately $187 million if it had been built today.

The cleanliness and layout of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, greatly influenced Walt Disney’s vision for the park. He was also influenced by other parks and events: Greenfield Village, Chicago Railroad Fair, Colonial Williamsburg, the Century of Progress in Chicago, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the New York World Fair of 1939.

July 17, 1955: Disneyland Opens for “International Press Preview”

There was a lot of excitement surrounding Disneyland’s opening day event. In this “International Press Preview,” guests and press were given a sneak peek of the park before it opened to the public the next day. The event, broadcast live on ABC, attracted an estimated 90 million viewers, making it (at the time) the most-watched television program in US history. Since then, Disneyland has celebrated its birthday every year on July 17, thanks to memories of the television broadcast.

Guests were treated to a special appearance by Walt Disney himself. He welcomed everyone to Disneyland and expressed his “hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” Governor Goodwin Knight, Walt Disney’s Hollywood friends Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and Robert Cummings also attended the dedication ceremony.

Not All Went As Planned

While the “International Press Preview” was meant to be a grand affair, many things went wrong. The weather was scorching hot, reaching 101 degrees. The heat was so bad that women’s heels sunk into the new asphalt. In addition, over half of the attendees had invited themselves into the park by either jumping the fence or forging tickets.

Further complicating matters, a plumbers’ strike was going on. Disney had to choose between working toilets or drinking fountains, and he chose the toilet. As a result, there were no drinking fountains during the heat wave. Some thought this was a conspiracy by event-sponsor Pepsi to make people buy their products. It wasn’t.

Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds were delayed for their scheduled appearances at Disneyland due to gridlock on the newly constructed freeway leading into the park. To make matters worse, three of the five lands were forced to close due to a gas leak right after the park opened.

July 18, 1955: Disneyland Opens to the General Public

On Sunday, July 18, 1955, Disneyland opened its doors to the general public for the first time. The first person to enter the park was a boy named David MacPherson. Since Roy O. Disney pre-purchased ticket number one, MacPherson received admission ticket number two.

A total of 33 opening day rides and exhibits were spread across five lands: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Main Street USA, and Tomorrowland. Admission was just $1.00, equivalent to about $11 today adjusted for inflation. That’s quite a bargain compared to today’s admission prices!

Judging by the long lines and enthusiastic guests, it’s safe to say that Disneyland was an instant success. It only took seven weeks for Disneyland’s gates to attract one million visitors!

October 5, 1955: Disney’s First Hotel Opens

In 1955, Jack Wrather opened the Disneyland Hotel as a motor inn under an agreement with Walt Disney, making it the first hotel with the Disney name.

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1956: Disneyland’s Popularity Grows

In 1956, Disneyland welcomed 5 million visitors, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The park added new attractions to accommodate the growing number of guests, including the Omnibus on Main Street USA, the Junior Autopia in Fantasyland, and the Astro-Jets in Tomorrowland. Frontierland also debuted the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train and the Indian War Canoes, while Storybook Land Canal Boats replaced the Canal Boats of the World. In addition, Disneyland added Skyway to provide guests with a unique bird’s eye view of the park.

1957: The Park Expansion Continues

In 1957, Disneyland got its first new land, Holidayland. This addition was a massive expansion at the time and was meant to serve as a space where visitors could spread out and relax away from the park’s hectic areas.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle was also opened up to visitors for the first time this year. Additionally, the Monsanto House of the Future was unveiled, providing visitors with an interactive experience to learn about futuristic technology. Lastly, Frontierland Shooting Gallery opened in 1957 as a popular attraction for guests to test their shooting skills.

Disneyland surpassed 10 million visitors in 1957.

1958 – 1959: The Decade Comes to an End

In 1958, the Columbia Sailing Ship made its maiden voyage at the park.

By 1959, Guests could also ride on the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail, see the Grand Canyon Diorama from the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad in Tomorrowland, or brave the Matterhorn Bobsled ride, the first tubular steel coaster ever built.

Also in 1959, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev unsuccessfully tried to visit Disneyland while he was in the United States for thirteen days. Because of Cold War tension and security concerns, he was not allowed into the park.

These events helped put Disneyland on the map as a place of excitement and importance.

The 1960s: A Decade of Firsts and Difficult Goodbyes

The 1960s were a decade of firsts for Disneyland. During the early 1960s, Walt Disney invited the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah to Disneyland.

In 1963, the Enchanted Tiki Room became the first attraction to use Audio-Animatronics technology. This new technology allowed three-dimensional flowers, birds, and Tiki gods to perform live on stage.

1963 also marked a somber first, as Disneyland had its first unexpected closure during the national mourning following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

It’s a Small World, a water ride featuring 500 Audio-Animatronics dolls representing cultures around the world, opened in 1966 after a successful run at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

That same year marked a seismic turning point for Disneyland and the entire Disney empire: Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. The park, of course, would continue on — but those in charge now had the difficult task of making their biggest decisions without Walt’s guidance.

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction made a splash in its debut year in 1967. This ride remains one of the most popular today, inspiring the hit movie franchise of the same name.

The Haunted Mansion made its debut in 1969. Today, the 999 happy haunts still frighten visitors, always with “room for one more.”

These are just a few of the highlights from Disneyland during the 1960s.

The 1970s: A Decade of Change

The 1970s were a decade of change and growth for Disneyland. However, the park also became the site of a political protest. In August 1970, more than 300 anti-war protesters from the group known as the Yippies entered Disneyland and staged a demonstration against the Vietnam War. While the protest was peaceful, it caused some disruption for park guests.

In 1972, the Main Street Electrical Parade made its debut, illuminating the park with more than 500,000 twinkling lights. Bear Country opened the same year.

In 1974, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress was replaced with America Sings, an audio-animatronic theater show featuring the history of American music.

America on Parade debuted in 1975 and ran through 1976 in celebration of the bicentennial. By 1976, 150 million people had visited Disneyland, and the park continued to grow in popularity throughout the decade.

Some of the park’s earliest attractions underwent significant changes during the mid-to-late 1970s. In March 1975, the Flight to the Moon attraction was re-themed as Mission to Mars. The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon occurred five years earlier.

The construction of Space Mountain adjacent to the new Mission to Mars began that same year. El Nino-related weather complications delayed construction. It finally opened in 1977 to much acclaim, with lines often stretching to Main Street.

The last significant change of the decade came in 1977 when the slow-paced Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was closed and replaced by the similarly-themed Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster in 1979. These changes helped to update Disneyland and make it more reflective of the times.

The 1980s: A Quiet Decade at Disneyland

The 1980s were a reasonably quiet decade in Disneyland history.

Fantasyland was closed in 1982 for refurbishment. In 1983, Disneyland reopened as “New Fantasyland.”

During the Skyfest Celebration on December 5, 1985, Disneyland launched one million balloons along the streets surrounding the park to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Splash Mountain was opened in 1989 and is still one of the park’s most popular – and wettest – rides, thanks to its five-story waterfall drop. Disney has announced that Splash Mountain is being to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, but its ride system is expected to remain the same.

All in all, the 1980s was a relatively calm period for the Happiest Place on Earth.

The 1990s: Planning for a Larger Resort

The 1990s were a decade of change in Disneyland history.

In 1993, the park debuted Mickey’s Toontown, a new “land” inspired by the long-running animated television series “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”

The year 1995 saw the debut of the Indiana Jones Adventure thrill ride. Based on George Lucas’ popular films, the ride allowed guests to be part of the action as they navigated their way through a treacherous archaeological excavation site.

Work began In the late 1990s to expand the one-park, one-hotel property into something more significant. Disneyland Park, the Disneyland Hotel, the original parking lot, and surrounding properties were earmarked for the area collectively known as Disneyland Resort. Construction on a second theme park had begun, and when it opened in 2001, it marked a new era for the Disneyland Resort.

The 2000s: A New Era Begins — New Hotels and a New Theme Park

In 2001, Disneyland underwent its most significant expansion since its opening in 1955. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa opened on January 2, 2001, and Downtown Disney – the shopping, dining, and entertainment district – opened on January 12, 2001. The openings occurred just before the new theme park debuted.

California Adventure opened to the public on February 8, 2001. Disney spent roughly $1.1 billion to build the 72-acre park. With the new addition, the Disneyland Resort nearly doubled its size. Opening day featured 15 new restaurants and 21 new attractions based on California’s culture and history. Disneyland Park welcomed 12.3 million visitors in 2001, while California Adventure welcomed 5 million.

Disneyland Resort celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005 with the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth,” an 18-month-long celebration. This was Disneyland’s largest promotion ever, coinciding with major renovations at the park.

Many of the original attractions underwent massive restoration projects leading up to the celebration, including Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Pirates of the Caribbean. During the celebration, fifty Golden Mickey Ears were placed throughout the park, and one ride vehicle from each attraction was painted gold.

The “Happiest Homecoming on Earth” celebration began on May 5, 2005, and ended on September 30, 2006. It was followed by the “Year of a Million Dreams” celebration, which lasted 27 months and ended on December 31, 2008.

The 2010s: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Opens

During the 2010s, Disneyland continued to be a beloved destination for children and adults. In 2015, the park celebrated its 60th anniversary with a Diamond Celebration featuring new attractions such as the Disneyland Forever fireworks show and the Paint the Night Parade.

In 2019, Disneyland introduced its newest attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which transports visitors to “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge made Disneyland an even more popular destination for tourists worldwide.

In 2019, Disneyland Park welcomed 18.67 million visitors, while California Adventure welcomed 9.86 million, the most visitors in its history.

The 2020s: Coronavirus Shutdowns and a Triumphant Return

There have only been a few closures in Disneyland’s history. Disneyland closed after the President Kennedy assassination, during the September 11 attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and Disneyland hotels closed indefinitely starting March 14, 2020.

Almost four months after closing, Downtown Disney reopened on July 9, 2020. However, due to a rise in cases in California, the theme parks’ reopening was postponed for many more months. From March 18 through April 19, 2021, Disneyland hosted a limited-capacity event called “A Touch of Disney” that offers guests the opportunity to shop and dine around the park. It wasn’t until April 30, 2021, that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure officially reopened with limited capacity and social distancing/mask guidelines. Guests were required to make a reservation before arrival as part of the park’s safety measures.

The Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted on June 15, 2021, allowing Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and other California theme parks to return to full capacity. Disneyland crowds have returned, and Disney fans anticipate more amazing Disneyland history to be made in the rest of the decade.

In 2024, the Anaheim City Council approved a major development plan called DisneylandForward, intended to outline future growth at the resort for decades to come. With the potential for new resort hotels, shopping areas, and even additional theme parks, there is much to be excited about for the future of the Disneyland Resort.

Are you Ready to Become Part of Disneyland Resort History?

Now that you know how Disneyland history has shaped the resort, are you ready to experience it for yourself?

Planning for a Disneyland trip can be time-consuming and confusing. Let our friends at The Vacationeer help you find the best Disneyland hotels and ticket packages for you. They are Authorized Vacation Planners and one of the best Disney travel agencies in the business, so you can ensure everything will be done correctly.

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Thanks for reading our Disneyland History article. For more Disneyland facts and trip planning information, see our Disneyland vs. Disney World comparison, tips for budgeting your Disney trip, Disneyland Daily Revenue/Income, Disneyland VIP vacations, and our Disneyland Map pages. Additionally, you may be interested in our Disney World History and Universal Orlando Resort History pages.