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Disneyland Opening Day: What You Didn’t Know

Disneyland Opening Day

photo credit: Tom Simpson via photopin cc

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates for the very first time.  While this was a momentous and historic occasion for Disney, the day did not go quite as planned.  Disneyland opening day was referred to by cast members as “Black Sunday” due to all of the problems experienced at the park.  So just what exactly went wrong when Disneyland first opened?

  • As Disneyland opened, workers were still busy trying to get the park ready.  Trees were still being planted and some of the paint was still wet.
  • Due to a problem with counterfeit tickets, over twice the number of invited guests showed up to attend the opening day festivities, making the park quite crowded.
  • To make matters worse, each park ticket had a designated time to enter the park to prevent overcrowding.  But the guests who entered early in the day were not leaving after a few hours as expected.  So, they were letting more people in and no one was exiting the park.
  • Because more visitors than expected showed up, the Disneyland restaurants and refreshment stands ran out of food and beverages.
  • The asphalt on Main Street had just been poured the night before and was still wet.  Women’s high heels were sticking in the pavement.
  •  Many of the rides broke down on opening day.  The Storybook Land Canal Boats had to be pulled by cast members in rubber boots.  At the time, there were no guide rails for Autopia; Therefore, some of the cars crashed into each other, making them inoperable.
  • Due to a plumbers’ strike during the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney had to choose between having working bathrooms or working water fountains on opening day.  Walt chose bathrooms, which was probably a good choice; however, the temperature that day reached over 100 degrees, leaving guests hot and thirsty.
  • A gas leak in Fantasyland lead to the land being temporarily closed for part of the day.
  • The Mark Twain riverboat was filled beyond capacity, as the capacity for the boat had not yet been determined.  When the crowd moved from one side of the boat to the other to see the sights, the boat began to list from side to side and water came over the  deck.  A few days later, with over 500 guests on board, the  Mark Twain almost sank and became stuck in the mud.  Disney then established a capacity of 300 in order to prevent this from happening again.
  • Due to the Disneyland opening day disaster, many press reviews speculated that the park would not last long.  Walt and his staff worked to correct the problems experienced  on opening day, and then invited the press back to experience a normal day at Disneyland.

Despite all of the opening day disasters, Disneyland went on to become a huge success.  It is now considered the Happiest Place on Earth and is visited by millions of guests each year.


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lori ketcherside
Guest

How frightening would it be to see the Mark Twain with water sloshing over the sides?

Kimberly
Guest

I know! Can you imagine?! I’m glad they established a number for capacity after that!

Tody62
Guest
Tody62

I just finished writing about this in a book I’m doing of Disney Park trivia. It strikes me that if Walt had been able to get investors, as he had wanted, the park might not have stayed open. However, he had that deal with ABC for the Disneyland TV show that let him put a positive spin on the park in homes across the country for years after. Sometimes plans fall apart for the better.

Kimberly
Guest

This is very true. I am certainly glad they were able to change everyone’s view of the park to a more positive one and keep it open!

Jennifer Kaufman
Guest

I love this story, no matter how often I hear it. Talk about believing in your dream in spite of odds! 🙂 Sharing this on my FB page, great write-up!

Kimberly
Guest

I know! I’m so glad Walt didn’t give up despite the opening day disaster! Thanks for sharing my post! 🙂

Bonnie Pratt Hoy
Guest
Bonnie Pratt Hoy

That explains the classic photo of kids running OUT of Fantasyland through the castle.

Kimberly
Guest

Hahaha! I guess it would! 🙂

Kyle Chang
Guest
Kyle Chang

Storybook Land Canal Boats on opening day was Canal Boats of the World or more commonly known on opening as the Mud Bank Ride.

Kimberly
Guest

I’m glad they eventually got everything working properly! The Mud Bank Ride doesn’t sound like too much fun!

Kyle Chang
Guest
Kyle Chang

Yeah originally it was intended to be a journey past miniature recreations of the great landmarks of the world, but time and money prevented its completion. The ride was plagued by other problems. The outboard motors were prone to overheating, often forcing the boats to be pulled by hand, and because the attraction opened with little landscaping, it earned the nickname among park executives as “The Mud Bank Ride

MrsHN
Guest
MrsHN

If anyone knows a way to see a list of people invited that day, please let me know. My grandfather who passed away a few years ago was invited and was there and I would love to see the list. He told us many stories about that day. I wish I could still ask him about it.

Kimberly
Guest

I’m sure he had some wonderful stories about opening day! I don’t know where to find a list of those invited, but if I ever do come across one, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Karly Johns
Guest
Karly Johns

Wow! I never knew any of this, I’m so glad that despite all the problems they kept the park going, it was a huge part of my childhood!

Kimberly
Guest

Me too! I couldn’t imagine the world without any Disney Parks! I consider WDW my other “home”!

Bernie Wallace
Guest
Bernie Wallace

Disneyland is known for having a horrible opening day. It’s amazing how far that they have come since those opening days.

Kimberly
Guest

It really is! I am so glad Walt didn’t let a not so great opening stop him. Disneyland and all of the other parks have gone on to be a wonderful place for kids and adults of all ages, just like Walt set out to do.

Stephan
Guest
Stephan

I wonder how much the ticket was.

Cassandra D
Guest
Cassandra D

I really like this article on Disneyland Opening Day.

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

Very interesting article.

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