Happy Birthday Disneyland! Here’s a Look at Some of the Events of Opening Day

Visitors ride the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party attraction in Fantasyland on July 17, 1955. | Loomis Dean / The LIFE Picture Collection

Disneyland opened its gates on July 17, 1955, on a plot of land in Anaheim, California that previously consisted of orange groves. It cost $17 million to open the park, and its opening day was referred to as “Black Sunday” by Disney employees for years afterward because it had a bumpy start. Several rides were not ready to go and there were thousands more people entering the park than expected who walked in with counterfeit tickets. However, the park recovered and today visitors spend almost $3 billion a year at Disneyland.

Dumbo and other characters from Disney movies appear in a parade down Main Street, U.S.A., at the Disneyland opening on July 17, 1955. | Los Angeles Examiner / USC Libraries

On opening day, visitors could watch the first Disneyland parade featuring Dumbo and other Disney characters, and listen to the Disneyland Band.

Children entering Fantasyland on the opening day of Disneyland in Anaheim, California, July 17, 1955.

Fantasyland housed most of the rides in 1955, and children poured in through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to ride the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the King Arthur Carrousel, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and the Storybook Land Canal Boats for the first time. To the disappointment of some guests, the Rocket to the Moon, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant rides were closed. 

Children running through the gate of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. | Allan Grant / The LIFE Picture Collection

The other main attractions that were open were Autopia, Disneyland Railroad Main Street Station, Disneyland Railroad New Orleans Square Station, Jungle Cruise, Main Street Cinema which showed silent films at the time, and the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Visitors take a ride on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland on July 17, 1955. | Loomis Dean / The LIFE Picture Collection

On July 31, 1955, the Casey Jr. Circus Train opened, and on August 16th of the same year, Dumbo the Flying Elephant was ready. Alice in Wonderland opened in 1958 and the Matterhorn Bobsleds made their appearance the following year. In 1963, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room opened, and the delightful “it’s a small world” ride was added in 1966. 1967 ushered in Pirates of the Caribbean, and in 1969 the Haunted Mansion made a spooky addition to Disneyland.

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