The First Disneyland Ticket

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney, arranged to pre-purchase the first Disneyland ticket, sold on July 18, 1955, from Curtis Lineberry, the manager of admissions, from ticket booth No. 2. Roy thought that the first ticket would be historically important, and he did the same thing when the Magic Kingdom opened in Florida.

Fortunately, that valuable souvenir survives in the Disney Archives to this day. Former Disney Archivist Dave Smith used to keep it in a protective sleeve in his top desk drawer to show to visitors.

Those first Disneyland admission and ride tickets were "stubs" on a roll, like the kind of ticket a person might purchase at a movie theater or a carnival, and not as artistically impressive as the later tickets. That's why the tickets had a round hole in them, to go through the sprocket.

The back of the ticket had the disclaimer "The person using this ticket assumes all risk of personal injury and loss of property. Management reserves the right to revoke the license granted by this ticket."

That's because this was the standard "boiler plate" waiver on all generic tickets produced by the Globe Ticket Company, who were later responsible for the more elaborate A-E tickets in the famous coupon books.

The first tickets to Disneyland were sold on July 18, 1955. While the cost of an adult ticket was $1.00, 9 cents of that price went to a Federal tax, which was abolished in 1956.

A publicity photo from that day shows Walt Disney, broadly smiling and squatting next to Christine Vess (age 5, of North Hollywood) and her cousin Michael Schwartner (age 7, of Bakersfield) who were proclaimed the first paying guests to enter the Happiest Place on Earth.

In later years, Vess revealed that perhaps one of the reasons they had been selected, other than the fact that they were near the front and Disneyland publicity wanted young children in the picture, was that she had fallen and scraped her leg and was crying. In the famous photo, it is clear that there are two bandaids below the knee of her right leg.

In a phone interview in April 2005, Schwartner shared what it was like when he was posing for the famous photo with Walt Disney. "He asked if I could wiggle my ears. I squished up my face and tried. Then I asked him if he could, and he wiggled his ears for us."

The two children were given lifetime passes to the park.

While they may have been the first children to enter the park on that day, the first Disneyland ticket that was used that day was sold to a college student named David MacPherson. It was a fact recorded by several local newspaper reporters who were there.

"In order to be the first person to the park this morning, David MacPherson, 22, of 2312 Iroquois Ave., Long Beach waited in line from 2 a.m. until the entrances were open," stated the newspaper, Los Angeles Mirror-News on July 18, 1955.

A similar one paragraph blurb appeared the following day in the Los Angeles Examiner, Long Beach Independent, and the Los Angeles Times.

However, since he was a resident of Long Beach, the local newspaper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram on July 18 ran a photo of MacPherson at a Disneyland ticket booth giving an "OK" sign with his fingers to the photographer:

"Purchase of the First Ticket to Disneyland was made today by a Long Beach man, Dave MacPherson of 2312 Iroquois Ave. He achieved the distinction by getting in line at 2 a.m. By dawn, almost 6,000 others were in line behind him."

According to Jason's Disneyland Almanac, using Roy O. Disney's Disneyland Attendance Summary located at the Anaheim Heritage Center the attendance total that day was 27,000 guests. I am grateful to Jason Schultz and Kevin Yee for producing this valuable reference book.

For the 25th Disneyland celebration in 1980, Disney press material acknowledged MacPherson as purchasing the first ticket. There is color newsreel film footage of MacPherson holding up the ticket and smiling as he heads toward one of the tunnel entrances.

MacPherson was trotted out for some publicity in 2005 for Disneyland's 50th anniversary. At that time, he was 72 years old and a retired journalist for a local newspaper living in a cabin in Monticello, Utah, about 240 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

He said he had left "Quakafornia" 20 years earlier but still visited Disneyland with his lifetime pass.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, he lived 10 miles away from the theme park. He was a student at Long Beach State University where he worked on the college newspaper.

Watching the Sunday, July 17, television special of the dedication of Disneyland on ABC inspired MacPherson to hop on his Simplex motobike, that was only capable of speeds up to 30 miles an hour, and drive out to Anaheim to be the first person to get into Disneyland on Monday.

"I thought, 'Boy, I sure would like to go out there,'" said MacPherson, who figured he might get a prize for standing first in line. "I decided I wanted to be the first in line. The first person to go into the park who wasn't a relative of Walt's or some celebrity. The first regular guy to go in through the front door."

Around midnight, he drove his motorbike to Anaheim, arriving shortly before 1 a.m. to take his place in line an hour before anyone else showed up. He selected the nearest ticket booth.

"I had it in my mind to be the first," he recalled. "I would have said ‘forget it' if someone was already there. But I was the first person."

When MacPherson took his place in front of the ticket booth, Disneyland was scheduled to open at its regular time, 10 a.m.

As MacPherson stood there for eight hours, he saw Disneyland employees rushing about to get the park ready after the disasters of the previous day. He remembered that he heard Disneyland employees testing animal sounds for the Jungle Cruise attraction.

When the admission booth opened, a photographer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram newspaper captured the historic moment of him buying the first ticket. Looking at the photo years later, MacPherson realized he had his own camera but never used it.

"I must have been balmy or something after staying up all night," he remembered.

MacPherson recalled:

"Well, I had thought that perhaps someone might try to get ahead of me at the last moment. So I had prepared a sheet to the effect that I was first, and had last-minute workers and security people sign it. Sure enough, about five minutes before the gates opened a woman and two little kids tried to get in front of me. So I pulled out the sheet (like a miniature Declaration of Independence!) and showed it to her. It was like Dracula seeing the light shining on the cross and she slunk back.

"After I bought the first ticket, the management gave me a special pass to all rides, etc. (Note: "This complimentary ticket entitles the holder to be the guest of Disneyland on all rides and amusements in Disneyland for this date only: Jul 18 1955". MacPherson has since misplaced that valuable item but he did save an image of it on microfilm in the 1980s.)

"Since the line behind was very long and since it was hot, I thought that someone way back might want to buy my ticket that I had paid a dollar for. As I recall, I foolishly sold it for a dollar to a young man (since the complimentary pass would allow MacPherson to get into the park as well as enjoy all the attractions). I wish I had kept it.

"After standing in line so long, the first thing I did was go to the restroom.

"I can't remember buying anything or seeing a parade, but as I recall the attractions had very long lines that first day! It was hot and humid that first day, and I heard that folks standing in the long line to get in were passing out from the heat.

"I have no real sharp memories of the various parts of the park. I was very tired from being up all night, so I went briefly around to see at a glance, so to speak, the entire layout. I needed to get some rest because I wasn't thinking straight.

"I didn't even go on any rides. I had my camera with me, and I didn't even take any pictures! I didn't realize these pictures would be valuable someday.

"I was still in school and I had to get back because I had a class later that day. I was dead tired. I was the most popular guy at the college after the students found out.

"As I said, I was dead tired from being up all night. And, oh my goodness, it was very, very hot, and I had to get home to get some rest."

It is too bad that MacPherson can't remember that day clearly because there were things that existed at Disneyland only briefly during those first few months. It truly was a missed opportunity and something for us all to remember every time we visit a Disney theme park because things change so quickly.

When I was much younger, one of my favorite locations to watch a Disneyland parade on Main Street was in front of a storefront that had a small, slightly elevated porch and a bench. It was perfect for my folks who could sit and even see above the heads of the people standing on the street to see the parade.

For decades I had no idea that it was originally the home of "Intimate Apparel," a shop run by Hollywood Maxwell. In the early days of Disneyland, participants (or "lessees" as they were then known) on Main Street were names that might be familiar around the turn of the century, like Wurlitzer, Upjohn, Coca-Cola, etc., and the shops they sponsored help tell the story of their business as well as lend an atmosphere of authenticity to the area.

At the turn of the century, women needed foundation garments and in 1955 Hollywood Maxwell was quite well-known especially for their padded undergarments known as "who-can-tells." Hollywood Maxwell had reportedly even supplied these falsies to top Hollywood actresses to enhance their famous silhouettes.

The Intimate Apparel storefront sold many of Hollywood Maxwell's most popular models. It also hosted a small display about corsets and other constraining garments of yesteryear.

A magic mirror on the wall gave those early Disneyland guests who weren't too embarrassed to go into the shop a glimpse of the changes in fashion from 1900 to 1950 as a series of pictures were accompanied by the following narration:

"Look in the mirror and see the story of fashion. Like all stories it has two sides, but since fashion is a lady, the world can only know half of it. The truth is that even in Granny's day, being a doll required a lot of pull. Those nineties were supposed to be gay, but it took a lot of work to be stylish, and most of it was undercover as this makes clear.

"Needless to say, Granny's secrets were well hidden. Why she'd turn green with envy if she could see the lift today's girl gets from our new line. It's designed for wear under a casual sweater or deep-throated shirt. Then for a change of mood, there's the new and intoxicating pink champagne, that lends its own sweet shape to you.

"You see modern girls have so many fashions to choose from, it takes a wizard to keep them in shape. That's why Hollywood Maxwell designs a bra for every fashion. To see them all just ask at your favorite store for Hollywood Maxwell, The Wizard of Bras."

Hollywood Maxwell ended its Disneyland contract in December 1956 for a variety of reasons, including labor disputes and the desire of the company to shift its marketing focus to an East Coast audience. Munsingwear, Inc. acquired the company in 1958.

MacPherson wouldn't have seen much in City Hall since it was being used as administrative offices for Disneyland (and those offices weren't air-conditioned, because Walt wanted his executives out in the park, not hiding in a cool office). In the building was First Aid, Security, Publicity and Lost and Found among other departments.

MacPherson would not have seen anything in the Opera House either since it still housed the Disneyland Lumber Mill. It would be another five years or so before an exhibit popped up in the Opera House.

If MacPherson were hungry, he might have gotten a snack at the Puffin Bakery Shop on Main Street or gotten a complimentary bottle of six vitamins from the Upjohn Pharmacy. (The live leeches in the huge bell jar in that shop were purely for display of how they did things around the turn of the century.)

Surely, the sounds from the Wurlitzer Music Hall on Main Street might have helped wake him up. (And, yes, that was a Wurlitzer organ that was operating on King Arthur's Carousel in Fantasyland.) And who comes to Disneyland to buy an organ?

The opening program at the Main Street Cinema didn't feature Mickey Mouse cartoons, but consisted of seven-minute clips from early silent movies including Dealing with Daisy, starring William S. Hart; A Dash Through the Clouds, starring Mabel Normand; Shifting Sands, starring Gloria Swanson; A Noise of Bombs, starting Charlie Murray, Edgar Kennedy and the Keystone Kops; Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur, and many glorious hand-tinted slides.

MacPherson wouldn't have wanted to waste his time riding the Canal Boats of the World because Walt didn't have the money to make the miniatures of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben to decorate the banks, so guests quickly dubbed the attraction the "Mud Bank Ride," while cast members piloting the boats tried to entertain by talking about what Walt had planned for the future.

Just like some Disneyland Cast Members today, they regaled their audiences with fanciful, if completely inaccurate, descriptions of what was planned.

Ed Ettinger, head of public relations, hadn't yet come up with the concept of "A Day at Disneyland": $2.50 adult ticket book for eight rides and admission. That wouldn't happen until October 11, 1955.

By the way, they weren't "ticket books" but "coupon books," although no one ever called them by that name. So MacPherson would have had to constantly reach into his pocket for money for the A, B, and C ticket rides. D ticket rides wouldn't come until late 1956, and E ticket attractions in 1959.

And if MacPherson was hungry, thank heavens he never stumbled backstage to the cast cafeteria. The original cast cafeteria was "Harley's Tent." Harley was in charge of the "roach coaches" food trucks that had fed the construction crews building Disneyland, and got permission to set up a permanent tent backstage during that first year to serve the Disneyland employees.

MacPherson may have gotten a chance to meet the first and only official resident of Disneyland: Owen Pope (and his wife Dolly), who was in charge of all the horses and mules.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but what missed opportunities to experience something as amazing as the almost barren Disneyland for the first time and to record those memories for those of us who weren't around during that historical period.

The Disney Company eventually admitted that it was indeed MacPherson who purchased the very first ticket and should have been the first one admitted through the turnstiles on that day. He was given a lifetime pass for himself and three others to all the Disney theme parks (except the Tokyo and Hong Kong parks).

"I have to admit that that was a very nice reward for staying up all night," MacPherson said. "It got me and three friends into the park. So I used to go on a lot of double dates to Disneyland."

When he used the pass at Walt Disney World in 2005, "The girl at the gate made such a fuss about me being the guy who bought the first ticket to Disneyland that people kept coming up to me and asking for my autograph. It was pretty funny, actually."

While Walt Disney was alive, Disneyland officially stated that opening day was on July 18, 1955 and celebrated the 18th as its Anniversary. For example, a 1967 Disneyland press release referred to July 17, 1955, as "Dedication Day," and not "Opening Day."

Former Disneyland employee and Club 55 member Hank Dains recalled that July 18th day: "I remember the first day we had paying guests in the park and Walt was over at the Fire Station. And I heard him say, 'Paying guests. I love you'… and threw them a great big kiss!"

A ticket sold at Ticket Booth no. 8 during 1955 was recently auctioned off on eBay. Tickets came in a variety of colors including yellow, brown, red and blue, and were often ripped in half as you entered.

The best site for more information about Disneyland and Walt Disney World tickets and the various changes over the decades is Vintage Disneyland Tickets

I'll remind all of you again once the date gets closer, but I will be a speaker at the Disney Family Museum on November 8, where I will be discussing Walt Disney's fascination with outer space.