Understaffed, behind schedule, and so short on flowering plants that landscapers had to adorn weeds with plaques bearing fake Latin names, Disneyland opened its gates for the first time on July 17, 1955.
Despite the frantic lead-up, Disneyland’s inauguration drew nearly 30,000 guests on the first day—about three times as many people than had actually been invited for the special press preview, many holding counterfeit tickets—and Walt Disney’s life’s work began to blossom. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Disneyland opening, here are 24 mind-blowing facts few people know about the Happiest Place on Earth, compiled from Chris Strodder’s epic Disneyland Book of Lists.
1. Before Disney chose Anaheim, he almost built his park on a seven-acre studio lot in Burbank. The meager playground would be called “Walt Disney’s America.” Fortunately for us all, his dreams grew quickly.
2. Disneyland was ultimately built on a 160-acre orange grove, displacing more than 12,000 orange trees. Park landscapers Jack and Bill Evans tried to make up for it though: More than 40 species of flowers and 700 exotic trees grow along the Jungle Cruise alone, and the iconic Mickey-head topiary out front contains 10,000 flowers—replanted six times a year.
3. Disney nicknamed the park’s opening day “Black Sunday” for the constant problems that beset the over-crowded, under-prepared event. Food, drink, and bathroom shortages abounded. The summer heat softened freshly poured pavement and trapped women’s heels in melting cement. Dangerously over capacity, the Mark Twain riverboat nearly tilted into the lake and flooded.
4. Many initial press reviews were scathing, but inconsequential. Approximately 50,000 people attended the public opening the next day, some arriving in line as early as 2 am.
5. Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney purchased the first Disneyland admission ticket for $1 on July 18, 1955. The park sold its one-millionth ticket less than two months later, on September 8th.
6. All told, the annual attendance in Disneyland’s first year was about 3.6 million people.
7. Today, the park serves roughly 16 million people every year.
8. …And about 200 feral cats. For years, staffers have fed these so-called Disneyland Cats as a free pest-control solution. Today you might spot some at the feeding station near the Hungry Bear Restaurant, but they weren’t always welcome. When Walt Disney stumbled upon the first flea-infested batch of cats inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in 1955, he adopted them out to staff members as quickly as possible.
9. Average guest expenditure has increased about 8,000 percent in 60 years. The average cost per guest per day in 1955 was about $2.37— $1 for admission, $0.25 for parking, and the rest for rides and souvenirs. The cost for a similar visit today: $196 (an 83-fold rate hike).
10. The most popular attraction at Disneyland, and in the entire world, is Pirates of The Caribbean. Carrying close to a third of a billion passengers since its 1967 debut, Pirates has entertained more visitors than any other ride on the planet.
11. On the other hand, Disneyland’s shortest-lived attraction lasted just two months. The Mickey Mouse Club Circus opened in November 1955 and closed by January due to low attendance. The resulting “Keller’s Jungle Killers” exhibit—a trained animal act featuring the same sedated jungle cats from Mickey’s circus—lasted another seven months.
Content continues below ad
12. Many other attractions were abandoned before they even opened. Some ideas that Walt talked up but never got around to building include the Peter Pan Crocodile Aquarium (a live fish exhibit to be entered through a massive crocodile’s jaw) and Paul Bunyan’s Boot (a 25-foot-tall interactive shoe.)
13. The fastest ride in the park is no roller coaster—it’s Splash Mountain. Passengers reach about 40 mph while plummeting down the ride’s climactic 47-degree plunge into the briar patch.
14. The saddest place in the Happiest Place on Earth? The Haunted Mansion. Disney cast members are required to smile everywhere in the park, except here. The emerald-cloaked mansion staffers are actually encouraged to put on a dour demeanor, to further spook their guests.
15. And there may be actual ghosts there. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean rides have both been temporarily shut down after staffers caught passengers spreading mysterious powder onto the set pieces. Anaheim police solved the mystery: human ashes. (The park now strictly prohibits cremated remains, along with stink bombs and selfie sticks.)
16. Meanwhile, there were once real human bones on display in Pirates of The Caribbean. According to Imagineer Jason Surrell, when the ride first opened in 1967, bones from the UCLA Medical Center were scattered among one of the scenes.
17. The most resilient attraction in Disneyland? Tomorrowland’s “House of The Future” (1957-67). The Monsanto-sponsored walk-through exhibit was designed to show off advanced plastics manufacturing of the time—and it succeeded. The house’s plastic shell was so strong it repelled wrecking balls during demolition. It eventually took a crew with crowbars and chains two weeks to break apart, piece by piece.
18. The most exclusive attraction? Club 33. This secret speakeasy in New Orleans Square has a 10-year waiting list and $25,000 initiation fee. Seems steep… until you consider that it’s the only place in Disneyland that serves alcohol. Parents, sign up here.
19. Space Mountain was the first Disneyland attraction with a higher price tag than Disneyland itself. The epic indoor roller coaster cost $20,000,000 to build in 1977; the entire park only cost $17,000,000 in 1955.
20. The most expensive ride of all time, though, was the Indiana Jones Adventure, which cost about $125 million. The 57,000-square-foot attraction that Jungle Cruise skippers lovingly call “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Three-Hour Line” took 400 Imagineers two years to build.
21. The most expensive souvenir? A $37,500 miniature. It’s a solid crystal replica of Cinderella’s Castle, set with more than 28,000 Swarovski crystals, patiently waiting to drain your pension at the Crystal Arts store on Main Street.
22. Disneyland’s most famous alum? Probably comedian Steve Martin. His first job was selling guidebooks and magic tricks at several shops around the park. Toy Story director John Lasseter started as a street sweeper in Tomorrowland, Michelle Pfeiffer masqueraded as Alice in the ‘70s, and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler was a Jungle Cruise skipper.
23. Current cast members have unusual nicknames for their audio-animatronic coworkers. The Jungle Cruise elephant is named “Bertha.” The Matterhorn’s abominable snowman is “Harold.” And the nine-ton, fire-breathing dragon from Fantasmic? “Bucky,” obviously.
24. Walt Disney considered the park his life’s most important work. “When you wrap up a picture and turn it over to Technicolor, you’re through,” Disney told the Hollywood Citizen-News while raising funds for Disneyland. “Snow White is a dead issue with me… I want something live, something that would grow. The park is that. Not only can I add things to it, but even the trees will keep growing. The thing will get more beautiful year after year. And it will get better as I find out what the public likes. I can’t do that with a picture.”
For more magical Disneyland facts like these, check out The Disneyland Book of Lists by Chris Strodder.