Vintage Photos of the "Happiest Place on Earth"

In 1955, Walt Disney transformed a California orange grove into a scene right out of his imagination.

By Andrea Leitch
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:40 BST

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land.”

On Sunday, July 17, 1955, film producer and showman Walt Disney greeted thousands of eager visitors at the grand opening of his fantastical theme park. Disney transformed a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim, California, into a scene right out of his imagination with the goal to educate and amuse both adults and their children.

“Here, age relives fond memories of the past … and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future,” he exclaimed in his welcome speech. “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.”

The theme park expected a crowd of 15,000 people at the invitation-only opening, but the invitation was counterfeited and thousands of uninvited people were admitted into Disneyland on opening day. Traffic was backed up for miles on the highway, and several mishaps, like broken water fountains, occurred on the scorching summer day.

For more than 50 million viewers who didn’t hold a golden ticket, the unveiling of Disneyland was broadcast on TV, offering a virtual tour of the Magic Kingdom’s four areas of entertainment—Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

Despite the problems on opening day, the park quickly became a beacon of success: It took only seven weeks for one million visitors to enter Disneyland, and the theme park soon surpassed the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park in popularity.

Decades later, Disneyland remains one of the world’s top theme parks, and hosts nearly 20 million visitors a year. Today, there are seven Disney parks and resorts across three continents where guests spend billions of dollars every year to experience the magic of Disney, which all started with the original park on an orange grove.

“Disneyland would be a world of Americans, past and present, seen through the eyes of my imagination,” Disney envisioned. “A place of warmth and nostalgia, of illusion and color and delight.”

Editor’s note: Disney is working to acquire 21st Century Fox, the parent company of National Geographic Partners.

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