Happy Another Anniversary, Disneyland!

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

As Walt Disney said, "Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with idea of making money. I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place—a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonder of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it Disneyland is the star. Everything else is in the supporting role."

This is a selection from my book Walt's Words that has 16 pages of quotes by Walt about Disneyland with citation of sources for all quotes.

I have learned that only people can celebrate a birthday. Things celebrate anniversaries. Walt Disney World is headed to a big anniversary in October of this year.

Disneyland has enjoyed many anniversaries and each year I struggle to find some new fact or new perspective to share as my gift. After all these years writing about Disneyland, it has never gotten any easier. Yet even now, there are still some things that haven't been printed.

In 1980, as Disneyland was celebrating its 30th anniversary and one without either Walt or his brother Roy and the company's attention directed to the East Coast and the building of Epcot Center, the Walt Disney Company did something out of the ordinary.

They shared with the press some official numbers about yearly attendance, number of cast members and payroll expenditures among other things like Disneyland capital expenditures for each year and Disneyland local expenditures for each year.

As a former Epcot Guest Relations cast member, I can tell you that part of my training was to emphasize to never share numbers, especially about money. It was ingrained that we never talk about price, only about value.

Today, if Disney ever shares numbers it is alluded to with qualifiers like "almost", "over" or "nearly". Today, we even have to guess how much it cost to build an attraction using best estimates.

Disneyland started in 1955 with a capital investment of $17 million and, by the time of the death of Roy O. Disney in December 1971, that investment had grown to over $120 million.

When Disneyland started in 1955, it paid roughly $5 million for goods, services and payroll to local Anaheim residents and Orange County residents. It started a policy of trying to buy and hire locally whenever possible. By December 1971 it was up to $35 million.

I have always been fascinated with the Classic Years (1955 -1971) when the park was run by Walt Disney and his brother Roy making decisions. So today, I am going to share some of those numbers year by year.

For those people who read my columns, you know that I have always been more interested in people and stories than statistics but I think if you follow these numbers chronologically you might see a story developing.

It is important to remember that while Walt only cared about what money could do to make things better he was always worried about meeting a payroll, whether it was at his studio or later at the park. That burden weighed heavily on him and he mentions it in several interviews over the years.

Remember that when Disneyland opened, anyone employed there considered it a "temporary" job, because the experts had predicted the project would fail. Even such long-running institutions, like the members of the Disneyland Band and the Golden Horseshoe Revue performers, were only given two-week contracts for many years.

When Disneyland opened in 1955, Anaheim had only five hotels and two motels, with a total of 87 rooms. There were 34 restaurants in the city. Today, there are thousands of rooms and hundreds of restaurants.

Visitors to Los Angeles were encouraged to go visit Disneyland by taking Greyhound.

Here is a quick snapshot of Disneyland for roughly its first 15 years. Notice how Walt added multiple new things to Disneyland every year and upgraded some existing attractions and events (like the Christmas Bowl in 1955 that evolved into the Candlelight Processional)? Walt's philosophy was always to give the best value to his guests.

Remember, one of the reasons for my excitement is that these are the OFFICIAL numbers given by the Walt Disney Company and I assume most of you have never seen them in print before this column.


  • Attendance: 1.2 million (remember this begins from mid-July)
  • Employment: 1,280
  • Payroll: $6.350 million
  • Highlights:
    • Disneyland opens July 17
    • Eighteen major attractions along with three "free" non ticketed ones
    • Disneyland welcomes its one millionth visitor


  • Attendance: 3.8 million
  • Employment: 2,190
  • Payroll: $7.8 million
  • Highlights:
    • Thirteen new attractions added including Tom Sawyer Island, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Skyway Journey, Astro-Jets, Junior Autopia and Rainbow Cavern Mine Train
    • "Fantasy in the Sky" fireworks display debuts
    • Disneyland welcomes its 5 millionth visitor


  • Attendance: 4.3 million
  • Employment: 2,960
  • Payroll: $10 million
  • Highlights:
    • Eight new attractions added, including House of the Future, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Thru and Midget Autopia


  • Attendance: 4.4 million
  • Employment: 3,450
  • Payroll: $10.5 million
  • Highlights:
    • Additions include Main Street Fire Trucks, Sailing Ship Columbia, Alice in Wonderland, Grand Canyon Diorama


  • Attendance: 5 million
  • Employment: 3,650
  • Payroll: $12 million
  • Highlights:
    • Submarine Voyage, Disneyland-Alweg Monorail, Matterhorn Mountain and Bobsleds, Motor Boat Cruise added
    • Tradition of Rose Bowl teams visiting Disneyland begins with the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin
    • Premier Krushchev of Russia denied Disneyland visit


  • Attendance: 4.9 million
  • Employment: 3,693
  • Payroll: $12.2 million
  • Highlights
    • Nature's Wonderland, America the Beautiful and Art of Animation added to the park
    • Total number of park attractions: 45
    • Disneyland hosted its first Private Party for outside groups on May 13th when 5,042 Knight of Columbus enjoyed exclusive use of Disneyland


  • Attendance: 4.7 million
  • Employment: 3,819
  • Payroll: $12.5 million
  • Highlights:
    • Disneyland-Alweg Monorail system expands to connect with Disneyland Hotel
    • New and popular attraction: Flying Saucers
    • First all-night Grad Nite Party held in June
    • Tinker Bell begins summer flights from peak of Matterhorn to set off "Fantasy In the Sky" fireworks


  • Attendance: 5.1 million
  • Employment: 3,880
  • Payroll: $13 million
  • Highlights:
    • Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Safari Game Shoot, Plaza Pavilion Restaurant, Tahitian Terrace and new scenes on Jungle Cruise


  • Attendance: 5.6 million
  • Employment: 4,106
  • Payroll: $13.8 million
  • Highlights:
    • Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room
    • First cultural exhibit: "Salute to Mexico"


  • Attendance: 5.9 million
  • Employment: 4,190
  • Payroll: $15 million
  • Highlights:
    • Below deck sailing quarters on Columbia Sailing Ship added
    • Trapped Safari/African Veldt added to Jungle Cruise
    • "Fantasy On Parade" Christmas parade debuts


  • Attendance: 6.4 million
  • Employment: 4,590
  • Payroll: $15.5 million
  • Highlights:
    • Celebration of Disneyland Tencennial
    • Very first Disneyland Ambassador: Julie Reihm


  • Attendance: 6.7 million
  • Employment: 4,580
  • Payroll: $18.8 million
  • Highlights:
    • "it's a small world," Primeval World addition, New Orleans Square


  • Attendance: 7.8 million
  • Employment: 4,910
  • Payroll: $22.3 million
  • Highlights:
    • Pirates of the Caribbean opens
    • New Tomorrowland opens with PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, Flight to the Moon, Tomorrowland Terrace Restaurant


  • Attendance: 9.4 million
  • Employment: 5,510
  • Payroll: $25.4 million
  • Highlights:
    • First St. Patrick's Day Parade
    • First Cinco de Mayo Fiesta
    • 80 new Disney characters and new floats added to "Fantasy on Parade"


  • Attendance: 9.3 million
  • Employment: 5,510
  • Payroll: $29.9 million
  • Highlights:
    • Haunted Mansion opens
    • Love Bug Day


  • Attendance: 10.3 million
  • Employment: 6,200
  • Payroll: $31.3 million
  • Highlights:
    • Summer long 15th anniversary with more than five million people celebrating


  • Attendance: 9.4 million
  • Employment: 5,900
  • Payroll: $33.2 million
  • Highlights:
    • Disneyland welcomes its 100 millionth guest


  • Attendance: 9.6 million
  • Employment: 6,190
  • Payroll: $37 million
  • Highlights:
    • Bear Country opens with Country Bear Jamboree, Hungry Bear Restaurant and more
    • Main Street Electrical Parade premiered
    • Winnie the Pooh participates in "Winnie the Pooh for President"

In 1967, Walt missed the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean and the New Tomorrowland with Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, re-designed Flight to the Moon and Rocket Jets and more but was directly involved in their creation.

In 1972, Roy missed the opening of Bear Country and the Main Street Electrical Parade but was involved in their appearance at Disneyland.

In 1967, for the very first time, the Disney University Handbook did not have an introduction by Walt Disney. In fact, Dick Nunis and Van France changed the name of the training program to Traditions to keep alive the traditions of Walt. Walt's older brother, Roy, shared these thoughts with newly hired cast members on the first page:

"May I personally welcome you to our Disney organization. Just as you have done, I sat through a University of Disneyland orientation program. At that time…several months before Disneyland's opening on July 17, 1955…we in the Disney organization were working frantically to make a dream come true.

"It was Walt Disney's dream of a place where families could have fun together…find happiness and knowledge together. Walt Disney was an American father with two children. He'd dreamed of Disneyland for 20 years…as a place where parents and children could share pleasant times…a place dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America.

"In everything he did, my brother had an intuitive way of reaching out and touching the hearts and minds of young and old alike. His entertainment was an international language. In Disneyland, he created a revolutionary new concept of outdoor entertainment…a world-famous theme show without equal or precedent.

"As he pointed out, 'You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality.' You are now one of those people who will make sure that Walt Disney's dream…and the dreams of the peoples of the world…continue to come true.

"As a new host or hostess at Disneyland, I'm glad that you have joined us in the challenging endeavor of creating happiness for others at Disneyland.

"Roy O. Disney, President Walt Disney Productions"

"A lot of people didn't believe in what we were doing…my brother had the worries of getting this money and fighting the bankers and things…but we ran out of money…a lot of people don't realize that we had some very serious problems here, keeping this going…getting it started…But at this time, ten years after opening,

"I want to join my brother in saying, 'Thanks to you people who have been here with us, and have been part of making this thing come across'…. But I just want to leave you with this thought…that it's just been sort of a dress rehearsal, and we're just getting started. So if any of you start resting on your laurels, just forget it."

---Walt Disney at the Tencennial Celebration at the Disneyland Hotel Magnolia Room, July 17, 1965

"We were the inheritors. We inherited the traditions established by Walt and Roy Disney…the many brilliant people at the studio and the dedicated Disney people at WED. We have been fortunate in being a part of extending these traditions at Disneyland…and then carrying them across the country to Walt Disney World.

"It's a time to remember that Disneyland was the Disney organization's first venture in a totally new concept of person-to-person family entertainment. We accepted that challenge and established a worldwide reputation for our friendliness and cleanliness and very unique brand of showmanship.

"You'll remember that at the Tenth Anniversary, Walt gave us a challenge. Those words said in 1965 are just as important tonight July 17, 1975 as we look forward to preserving and extending our great Disney heritage."

---Donn Tatum, Chairman of the Board, at the dinner honoring the first Disneyland cast members, July 17, 1975

There was no big 5th Birthday celebration in 1960 because the celebration had begun the previous summer with the "Second Opening of Disneyland" and the appearance of the first "E Ticket" attractions: the monorail, the submarine voyage and the Matterhorn.

However, by the time of the 10th Birthday celebration in 1965, it was time for the big Disneyland Tencennial from a special large comic book from DELL Publishing where Mickey and his friends celebrated the event to a special park parade and theme song which was later showcased on television as the Tenth Anniversary Special.

That special television show reminded viewers not only of the World's Fair attractions that would be coming to Disneyland, like Mary Blair showing off the new facade for It's A Small World but the new attractions in development like the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. On Thursday, August 12, 1965, Disneyland's 50 millionth guest, Mary Adams, entered Disneyland.

In fact the publicity demands were so great for the Tencennial that a "Miss Disneyland" was chosen to help Walt Disney with all the events. Yes, the very first Disneyland Ambassador was also known as "Miss Disneyland" in the publicity and it was intended as a one year job. There were no plans to continue that role, but the first Disneyland Ambassador proved to be so outstanding that the program has continued to this day.

That first Ambassador was a college student from Long Beach, California named Julie Reihm. She had been a tour guide at Disneyland during school vacations and weekends for the previous two years. Born in Galveston, Texas, Julie and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Reihm, moved to Long Beach when she was 3 months old. She lived there for over 20 years before becoming "Miss Disneyland".

She had a younger sister, Susie, and younger brother, Ryan, at the time. The official publicity declared that Julie was just over 5 feet tall, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair, and weighing 117 pounds. "In addition to her friend-making personality and smile, Julie has an excellent record in scholarship, music and public speaking. She hopes to become a teacher."

Julie studied piano for 10 years and won a gold certificate of merit from the Music Teachers Association of California. She sang in school choruses and in the Disneyland Tour Guide Glee Club. According to the publicity release, she also loved "outdoor sports, such as swimming, tennis, surfing and bicycling."

When she received the honor of being the first Disneyland Ambassador, Julie said, "I've learned so many fascinating things about so many places from the Disneyland tours I have conducted for visitors from all parts of the world that I can hardly wait to see them for myself. I feel I've traveled everywhere because of the wonderful people I've met in Disneyland."

She even appeared as a cut-out paper doll in Jack and Jill magazine August 1965, something that has never happened for any other Disneyland Ambassador.

For the 15th celebration, all of the Walt Disney Company's resources and attention were focused on opening Walt Disney World. There was a summer long celebration with over 5 million guests attending but no spectacular "give-aways", shows or events.

This year's anniversary will look a lot different than other years, just like so many other things in the world of Disney that had to adapt to the restrictions of the coronavirus. I am going to assume that the park will still issue an anniversary button on that day.

I have several of those buttons in my collection from over the years as well as many wonderful memories of being in the park on that special day.



  1. By carolinakid

    Great article, Jim. My family made its first visits to DL in 1967 and 1968. We moved to the east coat and didn’t visit DL again until 2004. We absolutely love it even though WDW is our “home” park.

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