On July 17, 1955 – history was made with the opening of the very first Disney theme park, Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The mastermind behind the idea was of course none other than mastermind Walt Disney, who dreamed up the series of attractions after frequenting several amusement parks with his daughters when they were young. In 1971, Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World followed, eventually becoming the most visited vacation resort in the world. Today, people all over the world can visit Cinderella’s castle or get Mickey Mouse’s autograph in one of Disney’s six parks located in California, Florida, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and China.
It is truly incredible to go back in time with these vintage photographs and see what Disneyland and Disney World looked like when they first opened. Although some of the rides and characters have certainly changed since the early years, and there have been many new attractions added and renovated due to advancements in technology – people’s undeniable love for Disney hasn’t changed one bit.
In this priceless photograph, we are shown the entire staff of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, posing for a picture on opening day October 1, 1971. This much larger concept that Walt Disney dreamed up was the second of his parks, with his first being Anaheim’s Disneyland which opened in 1955.
Unfortunately, only one year after announcing his Florida park project, Disney passed away from lung cancer at age 65. As we now know, his dream lived on and was eventually opened, at first with just one single theme park – the Magic Kingdom, along with three resorts: the Polynesian Village Resort, Contemporary Resort, and the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
It is truly amazing to see just how much not only the parks have evolved over the years, but the characters as well. In this picture taken shortly before Disneyland’s grand opening in 1955, we see the parade participants getting ready for the big day costume and all. The entire event was a huge deal at the time, and many people at home tuned in to watch the highly anticipated event via its live broadcast on ABC.
In this remarkable photo, we get a glimpse at the very first characters of a Disney theme park, including some of its most popular characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse and what also appears to be Chip and Dale, Donald Duck, and Captain Hook.
Building Spaceship Earth
This photo shows a few workers finishing up some last minute touches during the final stages of building Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, now a staple attraction of Disney World. Epcot Theme Park opened on October 1, 1982, and was Disney World’s second of four parks built, exactly 11 years after the opening of the Magic Kingdom.
The park’s concept was conceived by Walt Disney during the early development of Disney World, as an urban city and center for technological innovation. The new park more than doubled in size of the Magic Kingdom, spanning over 305 acres. Spaceship Earth, which contains a 15-minute ride that allows guests to witness some of the world’s most significant communication breakthroughs, took 26 months to build.
Here we see a group of extremely excited kids running outside of Sleeping Beauty Castle in 1955, shortly after it first opened. This was actually the first Disney castle to ever be built. At this time, however, the lovely castle was fairly empty, and was never intended to have an attraction inside.
However, Walt Disney was not okay with what he saw as wasted space, so he and his ‘Imagineers’ created a walk-through ride within the castle two years later, where guests could gaze upon Sleeping Beauty-esque dioramas and here Jiminy Cricket from Disney’s Pinocchio singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Today, the castle remains to be the staple attraction at Disneyland, although a few modern touch ups have been made since reopening in 2008.
Photographed here is a father and his two kids passing through a scary illustration while on Disneyland’s Snow White ride in 1955. This legendary dark ride based on the 1937 movie is actually one of the few rides left that has been operating since Disneyland’s grand opening. The ride brought guests through the story of Snow White through her perspective via small ride vehicles.
Passengers would get to see the dwarfs digging for diamonds and eventually make their way to the Wicked Witch’s frightening castle. In 1983, Disneyland reopened the ride with a few changes, including adding Snow White herself to the attraction after receiving many complaints as to why the character didn’t appear on her own ride.
Stroll through Tomorrowland
This stylish family is taking a stroll through one of Disneyland’s original parks, Tomorrowland. At the time, Tomorrowland represented a futuristic world in the year 1986. The headlining exhibit at the time was the TWA Moonliner.
The impressively tall structure housed the infamous Rocket To The Moon ride, where guests could take their very own voyage to the moon. In order to keep the park from getting outdated, numerous technological improvements have been made over the years and many of the original attractions have been rebuilt.
Although to many of us it may feel like Disney World has been around forever, this photo is a reminder of the days before the Florida park was even open, while the Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom was still getting built.
This picture captured the world-famous fairytale castle nearing its final construction stages in 1971. The extraordinary flagship Disney park attraction, which stands at 183 ft tall, took 18 months to build and was completed just in time for Disney World’s grand opening in July, 1971.
One of Disney’s original characters is the vest and top-hat wearing dog with a silly laugh, Goofy. In this photograph circa 1962, we see a Disneyland guest tying the lovable character’s shoe while Snow White’s Grumpy, and some other humored guests, stand by.
Back then, the concept of ‘meeting’ your favorite Disney character while strolling along the theme park was still new, kids and adults alike have been getting a kick out of these entertaining park ‘guests’ for years.
Over the years, It’s a Small World has become a favorite attraction among park-goers, now appearing in Disney theme parks all over the world. The water-based ride that brings passengers though a dark tunnel filled with singing animatronic dolls in traditional costumes from different countries first opened to the public in Disneyland in 1966.
In this incredible photograph we see a couple of Disneyland’s employees holding up a pair of the original dolls being made for the exhibit.
Disney just wouldn’t be Disney without its princesses. Many children love getting to see their role model from their favorite fairytale, and thanks to the creation of the Disney theme parks, young fans could finally meet their beloved Disney princesses – dressed identically to how they appeared in the animated films.
In this wonderful photograph, we can see a large crowd of park guests gathering in awe as they watch Snow White and Grumpy at Disneyland in 1969.
Years before being known for its movie franchise starring Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean was, and still is, a popular Disney theme park attraction. The original version was opened in 1967 in Disneyland, and allowed its guests to take a boat trip through a Louisiana bayou, and meet a band of singing pirates along the way.
Of course, a lot of work went into building the realistic animatronic figures at the time. Here, a Disneyland employee is seen finishing up some mechanical work on a couple of the ride’s pirates.
Taking a spin
The Mad Tea Party ride, based off of Disney’s classic 1951 film Alice In Wonderland, was one of the original Disneyland rides when it first opened in 1955. Since then, the ride which allows its guests to go for a spin in a tea cup has become well-loved by many, and appears in Disney parks worldwide.
This picture circa 1955 shows some of the very first lucky children to take a spin in one of the Mad Hatter’s tea cups.
Disney World’s Contemporary Resort located in Bay Lake, Florida, was one of the three first original resorts available to park guests after opening in 1971. To this day, the 655-room hotel that has a monorail driving through it is one of Disney World’s most desired places to stay.
Although the ginormous piece of contemporary art and indoor railway is still there, the interior has definitely changed and become a bit more modern since the original 1955 design.
Captured here is Walt Disney spending some time on the lawn in front of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle with one of his grandsons, shortly after his new park opened. Disney had two daughters named Diane and Sharon, and 10 grandchildren.
It was because of his own two kids that he was inspired to build Disneyland. By the time it was finally finished, he was able to enjoy it with not only his children, but his grandchildren as well. Chances are, he was the coolest grandfather ever.
One of the main attractions at Disneyland has always been the parades. Crowds of spectators line up on both sides of the street to watch their favorite characters go marching through the park in style.
This picture from Disneyland in 1970 proves that not much has changed when it comes to these parades. The children lining the road might be dressed a little bit differently but you can still see the same characters and have a grand ole time.
Round and round
Carousels, also known as merry-go-rounds, have been popular attractions for well over 100 years, so it’s no surprise to find an early photograph of a carousel at Disneyland.
These rides are often elaborately decorated with horses and other animals, and they draw guests of all ages to ride with their unmistakable music and colorful displays. They are one of the iconic features of most theme parks. This particular picture shows James Sylvers from the R&B group The Sylvers enjoying the carousel at Disneyland in 1973.
When Disney World first opened in 1973, it was a huge event. Journalists and celebrities flocked to the park, and there were even several guest stars.
One of these was singer and actress Julie Andrews, who performed as she marched along Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. A song and dance from Andrews, who at the time was best known for starring in musicals Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, was the perfect way to inaugurate the new theme park.
Balloons have long been used as decorations for celebrations and special events. They are also popular souvenirs to pick up when you visit Disney World or Disneyland.
Children (and many adults, too) are drawn to the colorful floating spheres, and balloon sellers are some of the most popular people at amusement parks. In this picture from 1972, a man with a handful of Mickey Mouse balloons is catching the eye of a young girl walking through Fantasyland with her parents.
For some reason, driving little cars around a track at a theme park is way more fun than driving a real car. Nearly every amusement park has at least one sort of car ride, and children and adults alike enjoy them.
On Disneyland’s opening day in 1955, actors Steve Rowland and Kathleen Case were photographed enjoying the brand new ride. The car might have been state-of-the-art at the time, but it sure looks cool to us over 60 years later!
A dream come true
For years, Walt Disney had dreamed about building a theme park where both children and adults could go to enjoy themselves. Once he received zoning rights and funds, he and his Imagineers analyzed every amusement park in the country in order to make his the very best.
Finally, construction began in 1954 and the park opened in 1955. After years of dreaming, Disneyland became a reality. We can only imagine how thrilled Walt Disney must have been when this picture was taken at the grand opening.