Less than a month after the release of Lady and the Tramp, something quite substantial occurred in the world of Disney...
Not content to be simply a creator of cartoons, Walt used the 1950s as a time of development and expansion. The advent of home television offered him wonderful opportunities to reach his audience right in their home, and he also grew the live-action component of his movie business. But perhaps his biggest gamble, a wild idea that under different circumstances might never have worked, was Disneyland.
Originally the concept Walt had was to let the public see where the movies were made, but he soon realised that wouldn't be a particularly fun day out. In 1953 he bought 160 acres of land in Anahaim California, and on the 17th of July 1955 the Happiest Place on Earth was opened to the world... and it was a disaster!
With today's knowledge of the park's overwhelming success (16.2 million guests walked through its gates last year) it's hard to imagine the horribly rough start that the park had.
Being such a huge undertaking, it was made sure that the whole world would be watching as it opened. It's estimated over 90 million people around the globe tuned into the grand opening on their television sets. But the way that Designing Disney tells it...
"As the gates opened, all was not quite ready. Workmen were still planting trees, and in some areas paint was wet to the touch. The asphalt on Main Street U.S.A. that had been poured just that morning was so soft that the spiked heels on women's shoes sank in.
The event did not go smoothly. The park was overcrowded as the by-invitation-only affair was plagued with counterfeit tickets. Only 11,000 people were planned to show up, but by mid-afternoon, over 28,000 ticket holders were heading for Disneyland, causing unprecedented traffic jams.
Southern California was suffering from a record heat wave with temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celcius.) A plumber's strike left many of the park's drinking fountains dry. Rides broke down shortly after opening and restaurant and refreshment stands ran out of food and drink. A gas leak in Fantasyland caused Adventureland, Frontierland and Fantasyland to close for the afternoon.
During the event, Walt Disney didn't know about all the things that were going wrong. His attention was consumed by the "Dateline Disneyland" live broadcast. It wasn't until the following day that he became aware via press accounts of what had happened."
Even though the launch was a disaster, Disneyland has since become one of the most visited family attractions on the planet. As a child growing up in the 1980s, it was my lifelong dream to finally visit Walt's Magic Kingdom. I got my wish when I was 18 years old, but as soon as I walked through that gate I was 6 again and there was an adventure around every corner.
There are now five Disney parks around the world, with a sixth currently in construction in Shanghai. While Walt was heavily involved in the planning of Florida's Walt Disney World, he never saw the completed park. In his lifetime, Disneyland was it. He and his imagineers created something that many thought was impossible, but it has stood as a beacon of positivity for over 50 years now.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." - Walt Disney