Walt Disney Brought Dreams to Life in Anaheim

Anaheim is a large city in northern Orange County, California. It is home to the biggest industrial district in the county, two professional sports teams, an 815,000-square-foot exhibition facility, and more than a third of a million residents.

But Anaheim was not always a bustling metropolis. When cartoon animator Walt Disney selected the city for his Disneyland theme park in 1953, Anaheim was a small agricultural community with few prospects for growth. Then, just as he had done with his drawings, Walt made his vision for a family-oriented theme park come to life.

Disneyland immediately put Anaheim on the map. More than 650 million guests have enjoyed the park since it opened, earning it a reputation as “the happiest place on earth.” The park, and Anaheim itself, are now famous throughout the world.

Neale & Fhima is a personal injury law firm in Orange County. We enjoy serving the people of Anaheim, as well as discussing the city’s history. Below you can read more about Walt’s vision, the park’s early days, and why Disneyland continues to be magical.

Wholesomeness Sells

Amusement parks existed long before Disneyland opened in 1955. These earlier parks may have included attractions for children, but the proprietors understood it was adults who were paying the price of admission. Beer, hotdogs, and thrill rides were plentiful. Walt observed the seedier side of the amusement parks of his day and wanted none of it. He set out to make Disneyland a place where families could be together, enjoying activities appropriate for all ages.

The Mouseketeers Spread the Word

If Disneyland was going to succeed, Walt needed to get children all over the country asking their parents to drive them to Anaheim. How did he plan to reach so many kids at once? Television.

The Micky Mouse Show was a children’s variety program that aired from 1955 to 1959. Walt wanted the cast to be comprised of regular children, not actors. He famously told the producer:

“I don’t want those kids that tap-dance or blow trumpets while they’re tap-dancing or skip rope or have curly hair like Shirley Temple or nutty mothers. I just want ordinary kids.”

The show was a success in all respects. Children were entertained and Walt’s new theme park got the advertising it needed.

Opening Day Troubles

Mother Nature and the plumber’s union nearly put the brakes on Walt’s dream before the first child had a chance to zig-zag through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Unusually hot weather struck the Anaheim area during the third week of July 1955. Due to a labor dispute, the park’s plumbers were not working at the time. When the park opened on July 17th, it did not have enough operating water fountains, much to the chagrin of thirsty visitors. Despite this and a few other setbacks, Disneyland was ultimately a hit. Attendance reached one million by the end of the year and nearly 20 million by the end of the decade.

A 5-in-1 Theme Park Experience

Opening a new amusement park is a monumental undertaking by anyone’s standards. But Walt did not open just one – he opened five. Disneyland originally consisted of five individually themed areas:

  1. Main Street, U.S.A. – Visitors entered through this storybook American town before veering off into other areas.
  2. Adventureland – An exotic tropical paradise, including a river cruise ride, a giant treehouse, and plenty of (audio-animatronic) jungle animals.
  3. Frontierland – Pioneers who traveled west to California in the 19th century would have felt right at home in this area of the park.
  4. Fantasyland – Sleeping Beauty’s castle overlooked other attractions in this area, all themed after children’s fantasy stories.
  5. Tomorrowland – A futuristic experience that featured a space travel ride and submarine voyages.

Capturing the Imagination of a New Generation

Walt once said that his Anaheim park would never be finished (which must have made his investors cringe). What he meant was, Disneyland will continue to evolve and grow, just like the dreams of the kids who come to visit. And if anyone knew about making dreams come true, it was Walt Disney.