Yesterland

Did Disneyland Open
July 17 or July 18?

Disney fans know that Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. That’s when Disneyland celebrates the anniversary of its opening. However, back in 1955, the official opening date was July 18.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, July 18, 2014

expanded from a Yesterland article originally published February 6, 2003


It was 1955.

Consumers were introduced to Play-Doh, Crest fluoride toothpaste, Quaker Instant Oatmeal, the Ford Thunderbird, and Tappan home microwave ovens.

Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, in defiance of Alabama law. Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” and millions of school children were given polio shots.

Joe DiMaggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ray Kroc opened the first corporate McDonald’s.

Albert Einstein and James Dean died. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Bruce Willis were born.

And Disneyland opened on July 17.

And Disneyland opened on July 18.

Wait a minute…

“Disneyland Opens July 18” bumper sticker, 1955

“Disneyland Opens July 18” bumper sticker © Disney 1955: from the collection of Scott F. Davis

On Sunday, July 17, 1955, a Los Angeles Times article (“Dream Comes True in Orange Grove: Disneyland, Multimillion Dollar Magic Kingdom, to Open Tomorrow”) began this way:

A dream comes true tomorrow—Disneyland opens.

It has been exactly a year and a day since ground was broken for the multimillion dollar magic kingdom which Walt Disney has created on what used to be a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim.

Undoubtedly destined to become one of Southern California’s greatest attractions, Disneyland is also prime proof that dreams do come true all by themselves. For into this spectacular project has gone meticulous planning almost awesome in it details.

There are several notable points in the article. The nickname Magic Kingdom was already being used. Although naysayers predicted the park would fail, others, including the writer of the article, had a more positive view. And the adjective awesome isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon.

But biggest thing that’s notable is the article’s “tomorrow”—the opening day of Disneyland—is Monday, July 18, 1955.

Disneyland construction in 1955

Photo © Disney: Disneyland landmark getting final touches two months before she “awoke” to opening day visitors

Sleeping Beauty Castle under construction

A Disneyland advertisement in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, July 15, 1955, had this:

OPENING—Disneyland, Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, will officially open on Monday, July 18th, and remain open every day during the summer from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beginning in the Fall, Disneyland will be closed on Mondays.

ADMISSION TICKETS—Admission prices for adults are $1.00, tax included. For children, under 12, admission is 50c, tax free. Tickets may be purchased only at Disneyland. Your admission ticket entitles you to roam all the land of Disneyland and view many free shows without any further charge. Disneyland’s rides and other unique amusements are all popularly priced.

Yes, “Monday, July 18th.”

Disneyland construction in 1955

Photo © Disney: Workers prepare to pour cement where the northern edge of Town Square meets Main Street U.S.A.

Main Street under construction

Although Disneyland opened to the general public on July 18, the anniversary date of the opening of Disneyland has become July 17. For example, as the milestone 50th anniversary approached in 2005, Disneyland Press & Publicity used these words:

On July 17, 2005, The Happiest Place on Earth will celebrate its Golden Anniversary.

Over 50 years ago, Walt Disney had a dream of building “some kind of amusement enterprise where the parents and the children could have fun together.” That dream became a reality when Disneyland opened its gates on July 17, 1955. What used to be 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California, Disneyland forever changed the way families around the world would vacation. And over 500 million guests have visited the Southern California vacation destination since opening day.

Disneyland in 1955

Photo © Disney: This is a rare color image of opening day taken outside the Main Entrance of Disneyland on July 17, 1955.

July 17, 1955

For all other Disney theme parks, the official opening date is the first day that anyone could walk up to a ticket window with the expectation of buying an admission ticket into the park.

For example, for Disney California Adventure, the official opening date is February 8, 2001. Members of the public actually had been buying tickets to the park long before the “official” opening date. Beginning Tuesday, January 16, preview guests included Disneyland Annual Passholders, media, operating partners, and all sorts of loosely affiliated local companies and organizations. But beginning February 8, anyone could buy a ticket.

Announcer Ronald Reagan, Disneyland, 1955

Screen capture © Disney: From Dateline: Disneyland on ABC

Announcer Ronald Reagan

Most Disneyland fans know why July 17 has eclipsed the actual opening date. It was the date of invitation-only “International Press Preview” event seen on the ABC network during a live 90-minute broadcast.

Disneyland dedication, Disneyland, 1955

Photo © Disney: Walt Disney reads the Disneyland dedication plaque before a national television audience

Dedication on July 17, 1955

Walt Disney delivered four sentences that give July 17 unmatched legitimacy as the opening date of the park, even though the ticket windows did not open until the next day:

“To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”     — Walt Disney

No other Disney park was personally dedicated by Walt Disney. July 17, 1955 was when Walt Disney opened Disneyland.

Art on a September 1955 Disneyland brochure

art © Disney; courtesy Orange County Archives

Art on a September 1955 Disneyland brochure

The rest of this article is a list of attractions that Disneyland guests could experience in 1955. Some were operating on opening day, while others premiered as the year progressed. It’s amazing that there are attractions from 1955 that you can still enjoy 59 years later.

Main Street, USA

  • Horse-drawn Street Cars
  • Horse-drawn Fire Wagon (no longer operating)
  • Horse-drawn Surreys (no longer operating)
  • Main Street Arcade (now primarily a shop)
  • Main Street Cinema
  • Main Street Shooting Gallery (removed 1962)
  • Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad (renamed to Disneyland Railroad, 1974)

Fantasyland

  • Canal Boats of the World (became Storybook Land Canal Boats, 1956)
  • Casey Jr. Circus Train (Storybook Land scenery added, 1956)
  • Dumbo Flying Elephants (enhanced, new location, 1983)
  • King Arthur Carrousel (new location, 1983)
  • Mad Tea Party (enhanced, new location, 1983)
  • Mickey Mouse Club Theater (renamed to Fantasyland Theater, 1964; closed 1981)
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (enhanced, 1983)
  • Peter Pan Flight (enhanced, 1983)
  • Snow White’s Adventures (became Snow White's Scary Adventures, 1983)
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride circa 1956

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride circa 1956

Tomorrowland

  • Autopia (numerous enhancements over the years)
  • Circarama U.S.A., “A Tour of the West” (original film closed 1959; original theater closed 1966)
  • Dutch Boy Paints Color Gallery (closed 1963)
  • Kaiser’s Hall of Aluminum Fame (closed 1960)
  • Monsanto Hall of Chemistry (closed 1966)
  • Rocket to the Moon (closed 1966)
  • Space Station X-1 (became Satellite View of America, 1958; closed 1960)
  • Thimble Drome Flight Circle (closed 1966)
  • Tomorrowland Boats (became Phantom Boats, 1955; closed 1956)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (closed 1966)
  • The World Beneath Us, presented by Richfield Oil Co. (closed 1960)

Frontierland

  • Conestoga Wagon (closed 1959)
  • Davy Crockett Museum (converted primarily to retail space, 1955)
  • Golden Horseshoe Revue (original show closed 1986)
  • Indian Village (originally near Adventureland; moved to current site of Critter Country, 1956; closed 1971)
  • Mark Twain Riverboat
  • Mike Fink Keel Boats (closed 1997)
  • Mule Pack (became Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules, 1956; became Pack Mules Through Nature’s Wonderland, 1960; closed 1973)
  • Stagecoach Ride (became Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach Ride, 1956; closed 1959)

Adventureland

Disneyland Canal Boats circa 1956

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1956, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Canal Boats circa 1956


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Updated July 18, 2014.