Vintage Views of Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Found Kodachrome Slide

Found Kodachrome Slide by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

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Found Kodachrome Slide
Found Kodachrome Slide by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

All Started by a Mouse

Disneyland opened in 1955, and its younger but bigger sibling, Walt Disney World, opened 50 years ago, on Oct. 1, 1971. Today, Disney operates theme parks in France, Japan, and China, too, while its U.S. parks have been repeatedly upgraded and expanded — with rising ticket prices to match. Take a trip back in time to the Happiest Place on Earth (as Walt used to call it) with these vintage photos from California, Florida, and beyond.

Related: 25 Ways Disney Revolutionized Entertainment

Walt Disney
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Walt Disney shows Disneyland plans to Orange County officials, Dec. 1954
Walt Disney shows Disneyland plans to Orange County officials, Dec. 1954 by Orange County Archives (CC BY)

1954: From Fruit Trees to Fantasies

When Disney began buying land in Anaheim, California, for his theme park, much of the Orange County property was cultivated orange groves. In 1954, Disney invited officials from Anaheim and Orange County (including Anaheim Mayor Charles Pearson, left) to review plans for the park.

Related: Hollywood: Then and Now

Walt Disney standing next to a helicopter bound for Disneyland
Archive Photos/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

1955: Building Disneyland

Walt Disney was a busy man in the 1950s, planning his theme park, hosting a regular TV show, and overseeing his film and animation empire. To get from the Disney studios in Burbank, California, to the Disneyland construction site in Anaheim, Walt would sometimes travel by helicopter.

Ronald Reagan at Disneyland
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Moviepix/Getty Images

1955: Disneyland Opens on Live TV

On July 17, ABC broadcast live as Disneyland opened for an invite-only preview. Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan, above, emceed the show for ABC, while 20,000 invited guests — and countless more who had snuck in with fake tickets — scurried about the barely completed park, dodging TV cameras and cables (and each other). Disneyland opened officially to the public the next day.

Related: 25 Amusement Parks: Then and Now

Crowds at the original Disneyland
Archive Photos/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Mid-1950s: The Original Fantasyland

The Mad Tea Party ride is one of the original Disneyland attractions still in operation. A major renovation of Fantasyland in 1983 moved the Mad Tea Party from the western side to the eastern side of this "land" of the park.

Home of the Future
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

1958: Tomorrow's Home, Today

Disney has partnered with private companies frequently throughout the years to showcase new technologies, including the Home of the Future, on display in Tomorrowland from 1957 to '67. This Fiberglas modular home, developed by Monsanto, featured plastic components throughout as well as innovations such as a microwave oven and a video telephone. Unfortunately, the Home of Future never caught on with homebuilders.

Related: The 50 Greatest American Inventions of the Past 50 Years

Found Kodachrome Slide
Found Kodachrome Slide by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Circa 1960: Next Stop, the Moon

Rising above Tomorrowland, the Moonliner rocket was an easy-to-spot landmark beside the attraction Rocket to the Moon (later Mission to the Moon, then Mission to Mars). Designed to resemble early aerospace rockets, the Moonliner arrived at Disneyland in 1957 and was sponsored first by TWA and later by Douglas Aircraft. It was removed from the park in 1967 when Tomorrowland was redesigned to make room for the Carousel of Progress, itself relocated from the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair grounds.

Ticket booth at Fantasyland
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

1960s: Tickets, Please …

From 1955 until 1981, each attraction at Disneyland (and, when it opened, Walt Disney World) required a separate ticket for admission. Guests had to buy coupon books at kiosks such as this one. There were five coupons, A through E, and each attraction required a different kind, depending on how popular it was.

Related: Cost of Disney Through the Years

aerial view of Disneyland
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives.

1962: Disneyland from Above

Although considerably more developed than when Disneyland opened, the land around the park still retained a few of the orange groves that once blanketed Anaheim. Interstate 5, the Santa Ana Freeway, lies just beyond in the upper left.

The Disneyland monorail
Harvey Meston/Staff/Archive Photos/Getty Images

1964: Highway to Tomorrow

Disneyland's monorail opened in 1959, though it didn't travel beyond Tomorrowland until 1961 when the line was extended to the nearby Disneyland Hotel. The monorail route has been revamped a few times since, most recently in 1999 when the hotel was demolished to make way for Disney's California Adventure theme park. 

The Sylvers perform live at Disneyland
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1975: Star Power at Disneyland

In the 1960s and '70s, Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom occasionally hosted popular musicians of the day, showcasing their performances on "The Wonderful World of Disney" TV show. In 1975, the Sylvers — a family band from Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood known for their hits "Boogie Fever" and "Hot Line" — brought its brand of soul and R&B to Disneyland.

Found Kodachrome Slide
Found Kodachrome Slide by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

1976: Celebrating the Bicentennial

Patriotism and Americana have always played a big role in the Disney theme parks. "America on Parade" was a daily fixture in Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, above, in 1975 and '76.

Related: The Most Patriotic Place in Each State

Epcot Plan
Central Press/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1978: Epcot Center Unveiled

Walt Disney unveiled plans for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (aka Epcot) shortly before his death in 1966. But building a planned city proved so unfeasible that Disney's dream soon morphed into a world's fair-style theme park, the plans for which were unveiled in 1978. Epcot Center, which cost an estimated $1 billion, opened in October 1982.

Disney World, 1979
Central Press/Getty Images

1979: Space Mountain

Walt Disney had planned a space-themed thrill ride for Disneyland, but his death postponed those plans. His dream finally took shape as Space Mountain, which opened in 1975 in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. RCA was the attraction's original sponsor; longtime fans will remember the long motorized walkways past showcases of the company's latest TVs and VCRs. Disneyland got its own Space Mountain in 1977.

Related: Disney Bucket List: 18 Things You Don't Want to Miss

Magic Kingdom Trainstation Tencennial Salute
Magic Kingdom Trainstation Tencennial Salute by Amanda (CC BY-NC-ND)

1981: Magic Kingdom Turns 10

To celebrate Walt Disney World's first decade, the company threw a yearlong celebration at the Magic Kingdom. The "Happiest Happy Birthday Ever" featured a daily parade (you can find videos on YouTube) where a guest would be chosen at random to serve as grand marshal, as well as song-and-dance parties in front of Cinderella Castle on a twice-daily basis. 

Apollonia Kotero attends the premiere of 'Captain EO' at the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Getty Images

1986: Captain EO Premiers at Epcot Center

Singer Michael Jackson made plain his love of all things Disney, and in the 1980s the company loved him right back. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Jackson and Angelica Houston, the 3D film "Captain EO" premiered at Epcot Center's Journey into Imagination pavilion on Sept. 13, 1986. Singer and actress Apollonia Kotero (who starred opposite Prince in "Purple Rain") was among the celebs in attendance. The film was replaced by another attraction in 1998, then revived from 2010 to 2015.

Walt Disney World Dolphin
Micha L. Rieser

1990: Walt Disney World Dolphin

In the mid-1980s and '90s, the Walt Disney Co. began aggressively developing their Florida property. Among the more controversial decisions at the time was to allow outside companies to build and operate resorts on the Disney World property within view of Epcot Center. Designed by star architect Michael Graves, the Walt Disney World Dolphin (and adjacent Swan) opened in 1990. 

Related: You Won't Believe What It Costs to Stay at Disney's New Star Wars Hotel

Tour de France at Disneyland Paris
Getty Images/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images Europe

1997: Tour de France at Disneyland Paris

Disney's first overseas theme park, Tokyo Disneyland, opened in 1983, followed by Disneyland Paris in 1992. In 1997, the 21st and final stage of the Tour de France bicycle race started at the theme park. Naturally, Mickey was in attendance.

Related: From Boneshakers to the Wright Brothers: 25 Fun Facts About Bicycles

Hong Kong Disneyland Unveiled
Getty Images/Handout/Hulton Archive

1999: Hong Kong Disneyland Unveiled

Disney finished the 20th century with a bang, announcing plans for two more theme parks to be located in Asia. Hong Kong Disneyland (a rendering of which is shown) opened in 2005, while Shanghai Disney Resort opened in 2016.

Related: 26 Ways to Do Disney on a Budget