Walt's Disneyland 1955-1966

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

“Your work at Disneyland is show business, of course, but of a different type. You’re a direct personal representative of the entire Disney organization. So it’s important that at Disneyland, we all work from the same script, and here it is. Let’s talk first about the Walt Disney traditions at Disneyland…” ---Mickey Mouse (in his own distinct handwriting) in the 1967 University of Disneyland Traditions training manual

Every July it gets harder and harder to write something new and different about early Disneyland. Check out some of those columns (link).
But I wanted to write a few columns about early Disneyland because as a kid I grew up in Glendale, Calif., and spent several decades feeling that Disneyland was my special place.

Frequent readers of my columns know that I am more interested in telling the story than just listing statistics and facts. Numbers don’t always register emotionally with people in terms of what they really mean. However, since I couldn’t find this information listed anywhere else, I think that looking at these numbers I am including in today’s column really do help tell a story of growth. (Attendance, Employment and Payroll numbers came from an official 1980 Disneyland document celebrating the 25th anniversary of Disneyland.) I am including the payroll numbers because Walt constantly worried about meeting the payroll and adding new attractions. Taking a look at the ever-increasing figures, it is easy to see why this was a burden on Walt’s thoughts about the park.

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. Twenty-five years later, the Golden Horseshoe and the Disneyland Band had done tens of thousands of performances for millions of guests—with many more to come.

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.

So here is a quick snapshot of the Walt years of Disneyland, and yes, there are a lot of things missing, including things that are probably your favorite. So use this snapshot to start adding some of your own facts and figures and memories. 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.


  • Attendance: 1.2 million (remember this begins from mid-July)
  • Employment: 1,280
  • Payroll: $6,350,000
  • Highlights:
    • Disneyland opens July 17
    • Eighteen major attractions along with three “free” non ticketed ones
    • Disneyland welcomes its 1 millionth visitor


  • Attendance: 3.8 million
  • Employment: 2,190
  • Payroll: $7.8 million
  • Highlights:
    • Thirteen news 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
    • 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 and Trapped Safari/African Veldt added to Jungle Cruise
    • “Fantasy On Parade” Christmas parade debuts


  • Attendance: 6.4 million
  • Employment: 4,590
  • Payroll: $15,500,000
  • Highlights: Celebration of Disneyland Tencennial
    • Very first Disneyland Ambassador: Julie Reihm


  • Attendance: 6.7 million
  • Employment: 4,580
  • Payroll: $18,800,000
  • Highlights:
    • "it's a small world," Primeval World addition, New Orleans Square

By the way, in 1967, attendance jumped to 7.8 million and in 1968 to 9.4 million and then stayed at roughly 10 million people a year every year through 1979. In 1968, employment jumped to 5,510 and at the end of 1979 it was up to 7,609. Because I know you are curious, the payroll in 1968 was $25.4 milion and by 1979, $66,388,000.

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.

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”

At this time of year, the usual Walt quotes about Disneyland are trotted out and they are all good but I know that MousePlanet readers want something even more, so here are a few out of the ordinary quotes from Walt about Disneyland that even I haven’t printed in the past. (Many of them come from short interviews Walt gave to local reporters during the Tencennial and I recently discovered a file of them.)

Walt’s first concern was always for the guests and that available money should be spent on the show where the guest could see it. When an expensive administration building was proposed, Walt rejected it with “There isn’t going to be any administration building. The public isn’t coming here to see an administration building.” (Dick Nunis told me the story that Walt wouldn’t initially put air conditioning in the Main Street Town Hall offices because he was fearful that supervisors would hang out inside instead of circulating throughout the park and helping with the guests.)

Another time, Walt rejected the design for a building with the comment: “I think the fellow is attempting a monument to himself rather than designing something that is for people.”

And now to finish off today’s column, some “lost” quotes from your host, Walt Disney:

“Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself—it would encompass the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge of the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of the imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and above all, a sense of strength, contentment and well being.”

“You can’t live on things made for children—or for critics. I’ve never made films for either of them. Disneyland is not just for children. I don’t play down. In the winter time you can go out there during the week and you won’t see any children. You’ll see the oldsters out there riding all these rides and having fun and everything. Summertime, of course, the average would drop down. But the overall, year-round average, it’s four adults to one child.”

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

“Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with idea of making money.”

“Disneyland is not just another amusement park. It’s unique, and I want it kept that way. Besides, you don’t work for a dollar—you work to create and have fun.”

“Disneyland is the star. Everything else is in the supporting role.”

“Everybody thinks that the Park is a gold mine—but we have had our problems. You’ve got to work it and know how to handle it. Even trying to keep that Park clean is a tremendous expense. And those sharp pencil guys tell you, ‘Walt, if we cut down on maintenance, we’d save a lot of money’. But I don’t believe in that—it’s like any other show on the road; it must be kept clean and fresh.”

“Disneyland is like a piece of clay. If there is something I don’t like, I’m not stuck with it. I can reshape and revamp.”

“There’s many ways that you can use those certain basic things and give them a new décor, a new treatment. I’ve been doing that with Disneyland. Some of my things I’ve redone as I’ve gone along; reshaped them.”

“The first year I leased out the parking concession, brought in the usual security guards—things like that. But I soon realized my mistake. I couldn’t have outside help and still get over my idea of hospitality. So now we recruit and train every one of our employees. I tell the security officers, for instance, that they never are to consider themselves cops. They are there to help people. The visitors are our guests. It’s like running a fine restaurant. Once you get the policy going, it grows.”

“Disneyland has that thing—the imagination and feeling of happy excitement I knew when I was a kid.”

“It’s no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment. Every time I’d get to thinking of television, I would think of this Park. And I knew that if I did anything like the Park that I would have some kind of a medium like television to let the people know about it. So I said, ‘Well, here’s the way I’ll get my Park going. It’s natural for me to tie in with my television.’ So it happened that I sort of had to say whether we went into television or not. I had a contract that said I had complete say of what we produced. So I just sort of insisted that my Disneyland Park be a part of my television show.”

“Well, you know this Disneyland concept kept growing and growing and finally ended up where I felt like I needed two or three hundred acres. So I wanted it in Southern California area. It had certain things that I felt I needed, such as flat land because I wanted to make my own hills. So I had a survey group go out and hunt for areas that might be useful and they finally came back with several different areas and we settled on Anaheim. The price was right but there was more to it than that, and that is that Anaheim was sort of a growing area and the freeway project was such that we could see that eventually the freeways would hit Anaheim as a sort of hub so that’s how we selected Anaheim.”

“Disneyland will always be building and growing and adding new things…new ways of having fun, of learning things and sharing the many exciting adventures which may be experienced here in the company of family and friends.”

“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.”