The Parks

Walt Disney and the Cast at DisneylandHerb Ryman's draw up of "Disneyland," as envisioned by Walt Disney Walt Disney's Vision of Disneyland, drawn up by Herb Ryman

Walt Disney's Vision of Disneyland, drawn up by Herb Ryman

To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America… with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.“–Walt Disney

Disney imagined a park that would be clean and safe, where visitors would be open to new ideas and opportunities[1]. He worked to create a theme park, an entire experience with a unified vision that was something different from the amusement parks that were open at the time of Disneyland’s construction.

Disney shows his plan for Disneyland

        No detail was overlooked by Disney’s Imagineers.  They focused on details such as scale, color, and texture to develop a cohesive vision for each of the “Lands” of Disneyland: Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland.

Disney and his Design and Development Staff for Disneyland

Construction for Disneyland began on July 21, 1954 in Anaheim, California[2].

Construction at Disneyland Site

The construction project was financed in part by Disney’s collaboration with ABC, in exchange for a weekly television series, Disneyland, which debuted in 1954 and was hosted by Disney himself[3].
      The television series showed viewers Disney’s plans for the park as well as Disney television shorts. The series familiarized viewers with characters and storylines that were present in the park, and allowed people at home to peek into the four Lands of Disney.
The construction covered 160-acres and cost about $17 million by the end of the project. After about 12 months of construction, Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955.

Children outside the Sleeping Beauty Castle on Disneyland's opening day

The theme park was a place that combined history and fantasy. Disney’s parks idealized American culture and showed the influence of science and technology. As Disney said,

“The older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savour the challenge of the future”[4]

The parks were not meant as reconstruction of history, but stylized and modified to send a message conveying American cultural values and idealism that Disney wished to present[5]. Disney’s goal was to entertain, to bring back a memory, and to challenge visitors to take hold of the future. The strategy of “theme-ing” encouraged visitors to interpret history and find connections between the past and the future in America[6].

For Walt Disney, he didn’t want “the public the see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. [He] want[ed] them to feel they’re in another world”[7]. Disneyland came to represent a place of utopia, full of hopes and dreams, where family comes together. In a 1953 pamphlet on Disneyland, Bill Walsh wrote:

“Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world…It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our own lives.”[8]

However, in dramatizing these dreams and creating a utopian world, the park, in its presentation of the past, omits many events and topics that are seen as conflicts, such as “depressions, strikes, the squalor in which immigrants lived, lynchings, wars, mass protests, Indians, labour wars, and the disenfranchisement of blacks.”[9] Disneyland was created to appeal to the white middle-class families and adults, so the world-view of the middle class is reflected in the park’s design. Issues of class, race, and gender are side-stepped. For example, gender issues reinforce the conservative notions of social role and family, which is reflected in the “Carousel of Progress” ride, in which “the position of women is presented in terms of their gradual emancipation from the kitchen by virtue of the creation of labour-saving electrical goods.”[10]

Disney created a park that combined American ideals with security and order in a world that was changing rapidly. The park was well-maintained, had great service, and “provided an atmosphere of order and control.”[11] Disneyland provided a respite from the competition of daily life in America as well as the stresses of living in a Cold War world. Disneyland promoted democracy, innovation, and Americanism that provided a sense of hope in an insecure world.

Text by Caroline Gottwald and Erin Turley.

[1]  Alan Bryman, Disney & His Worlds (New York: Routledge, 1995): 21.

[2] Margaret J. King and J. G. O’Boyle, “The Theme Park: The Art of Time and Space” in Disneyland and Culture, ed. Kathy Merlock Jackson and Mark I. West (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011): 12.

[3] Ibid, 2.

[4]  “Just Disney,”

[5] Jackson and West, 1.

[6] Jackson and West, 2.

[7] Walt Disney quoted in

[8] Bill Walsh in Disney and his worlds, by Alan Bryman, 141

[9] Bryman, 130-131

[10] Bryman, 131

[11] Scibelli, 217 in Disneyland and Culture


Next → The Parks: Lands in Close-Up


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