“Disneyland One Year Old”
A press release from July 18, 1956
Yesterland
 
Five years ago, I ran across a copy of the Disneyland press release from July 18, 1956—the first anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.
 
Wait a minute! Every Disneyland fan knows that Disneyland opened July 17, 1955. Read on to find out why the press release refers to the “July 18 opening”—and why that’s actually correct.
 
In honor of the 57th anniversary of Disneyland, here’s an updated version of a Yesterland article originally published in 2007. In addition to the 1956 press release and my commentary, please enjoy some 1956 photos that kind Yesterland readers sent to me.
Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, July 18, 2012    
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I know you can’t read the three pages above. I’ve reproduced the full text below. After the press release, I have some comments and some photos.
 

News From Disneyland
 DISNEYLAND ONE YEAR OLD 
      Disneyland concludes its first year of operation this week with attendance at the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim nearing the 4 million mark.
      At the end of the day on July 17 of this year, 3,642,597 persons had toured Walt Disney's playland, making it the largest single private enterprise attraction in the Western Hemisphere and "a complete success" according to the Park's management.
      Disneyland has scored high with tourists visiting the Southland. An estimated 1,493,465 or 41% of the Park's guests being drawn from outside this state.
      Included in the out-of-state guests were visitors from 64 of the earth's nations, including such far-off places as Saudi Arabia, Iceland, Liechtenstein and even the Soviet Union.
      Intermingled with Disneyland's guests have been notables and celebrities from the worlds of government, politics and industry. The roster of celebrities who have been to Disneyland reads like a Who's Who of entertainment. Guests from the government have included Vice-President Nixon with his family who toured the Park soon after the July 18 opening. A more recent visitor was President Sukarno of Indonesia. Dr. Sukarno on a state visit to the United States, made Disneyland one of his stopping places in Southern California.
      Proof that Disneyland's appeal has been to persons of all pages is furnished by a breakdown of attendance statistics gathered during the first year which revealed that four adults have visited here for every child.
      Average expenditure of Disneyland's guests for the first year was $2.37 per person. This figure includes parking, admission, rides, amusements and Disneyland souvenirs.
      Attendance during this first full summer season has equaled and surpassed records set during last July and August. For the week ending July 15, 148,729 persons toured the Park. Since June 1, a total of 768,425 guests have passed through the turnstiles.
      Certain of the Park's rides have proved especially popular with the visitors. These have included the Peter Pan dark ride in Fantasyland, the Adventureland Jungle River Boat Ride, the Santa Fe and Disneyland trains, and the Autopia Freeway's miniature autos in Tomorrowland.
      During the year the Park's operation has undergone a number of improvements aimed at increasing the guests' enjoyment.
      Free exhibits at Disneyland now number 21 compared to a total of 11 available last July. And today the Park offers 33 rides and amusements, seven more than when the Park was opened.
      Some of these new rides, part of an overall $2 million expansion program recently completed, include the Disneyland Skyway, the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train Ride, the Indian Village and War Canoes, Storybook Land and Tom Sawyer's Island.
      In keeping with Walt Disney's policy, the Park will continue to expand and refine its operation to offer unparalleled entertainment to its millions of visitors each year.
      Scheduled for opening next Spring will be the "House of Tomorrow" sponsored by the Monsanto Chemical Company, one of the Park's exhibitors. Other new attractions will be revealed early this fall, with construction to be finished in time for the 1957 summer season.
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The purpose of this 1956 press release (in addition to the usual goal of free publicity) was to declare that Disneyland had a successful first year. To drive the point home, the press release used multiple ways of measuring “success”—financial, customer satisfaction, and international recognition. Keep in mind that Disneyland had been a risky business venture. Experts predicted failure and labeled it “Walt’s Folly.” After all, the age of amusement parks was over, and, on top of that, Mr. Disney was breaking all rules for how to run an amusement park. Surely Walt Disney’s venture would sink. I guess the experts were wrong.

Did you notice that the press release declared Disneyland to be a “a complete success” with attendance of 3.64 million through the park’s first anniversary? Let’s compare that to the most recent full year. According to the Global Attractions Report published by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM, the 2011 attendance at Disneyland Park was 16.14 million. The 2011 attendance at Disney California Adventure was 6.34 million.

My favorite paragraph is, “Average expenditure of Disneyland’s guests for the first year was $2.37 per person. This figure includes parking, admission, rides, amusements and Disneyland souvenirs.” Of course, the U.S. Dollar was worth more in 1956 than today. I used an online Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator to see what $2.37 in 1956 would be equivalent to in 2012. The answer is $19.99.

Then there’s the expansion... “Some of these new rides, part of an overall $2 million expansion program recently completed, include the Disneyland Skyway, the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train Ride, the Indian Village and War Canoes, Storybook Land and Tom Sawyer’s Island.” According to the CPI calculator, $2 million in 1956 is equivalent to $16.87 million in 2012. That’s an impressive list of new attractions for the money, even though some of them were enhancements or additions to things that were already there. For example, Tom Sawyer Island (May 1956) introduced raft access, caves, Fort Wilderness, and other features, but the actual island was already there. And the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride (June 1956) was the former Canal Boats of the World ride, only with the Storybook Land scenery added.

Every Disneyland fan knows that Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, right? But the press release says, “Guests from the government have included Vice-President Nixon with his family who toured the Park soon after the July 18 opening.” July 18 opening? Yes, that’s actually correct. July 17 was the event for invited guests and the press, when Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and an actor named Ronald Reagan hosted a live television broadcast to a national audience. But Disneyland’s actual opening day for paying guests was July 18, 1955, at 10:00 a.m. That’s also why the press release says that the “end of the day on July 17” (1956) concluded the first year of operation— not that the beginning of the day on July 17 marked the beginning of the second year.

This article concludes with some pictures from 1956.

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Sleeping Beauty Castle is timeless.
 
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Well-dressed guests in front of the Gibson Greeting Cards shop.
 
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The Golden Horseshoe Revue was sponsored by Pepsi-Cola.
 
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The Mule Pack was an opening day attraction.
 
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Storybook Land premiered in 1956.
 
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A cast member examines the Casey Jr. track in 1956.
 

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Updated July 18, 2014.

Photo of Sleeping Beauty Castle: 1956 by Christian Paul Jr., courtesy of Chris Paul.
Photo of people on Main Street: 1956 by Christian Paul Jr., courtesy of Chris Paul.
Photo of The Golden Horseshoe Revue music hall: 1956 by Florence Weir.
Photo of Mule Pack attraction: 1956 by Florence Weir.
Photo of Storybook Land with Monstro: 1956 by Florence Weir.
Photo of Storybook Land cast member and boats: 1956 by Charles R. Lympany, courtesy of Chris Taylor.