Vintage photos and drawings of Disneyland show how it went from Walt Disney's pipe dream to 'The Happiest Place on Earth'

Dave DeCaro/TASCHENThis photo from 1959 shows cars queuing in front of the original Disneyland sign in Anaheim, California.

Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, the “happiest place on earth,” has become an iconic destination.

But its creator, Walt Disney, struggled to ensure it ever opened its gates. A new book on the evolution of the park says that Disney, despite his huge success in Hollywood, had to fight “every step of the way” to persuade banks, television networks, and city officials that Disneyland could work.

The first park opened in 1955, the only one under Disney’s supervision before his death in 1966. More than six decades later, Disney’s vision has been vindicated, and has attracted more than 800 million visitors.

“Walt Disney’s Disneyland”, a new book published by TASCHEN, shares photographs and sketches of Walt Disney’s early inspirations and ideas for the theme park, as well as vintage photos of its construction and the park’s evolution over 60 years.

Scroll down to see the early vision of Disneyland and its evolution over the decades.

Disney described Disneyland on television in 1954, a year before the park opened. It was designed to have different zones, like “Tomorrowland,” which celebrated the future, and “Main Street USA,” which honored nostalgia. These zones are still in place in some form today.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHENDisney describing his vision in 1954. From the top left, his map shows Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventures in Science, Edison Square, Liberty Street, Main Street, and Adventureland.

Mickey Mouse and his friends have always been at the heart of Disneyland. In 1964, Walt Disney posed with some of his most iconic and adored characters. Disney called their tales “classic stories of everyone’s youth” and wanted Disneyland’s Fantasyland zone to be where those stories could “become realitiesfor youngsters of all ages to participate in.”

Lawrence Schiller, Polaris Communications Inc/TASCHENDisney (center) posing in 1964 with (clockwise from top left) The Mad Hatter from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Goofy, one of the Three Little Pigs, Pluto, and The White Rabbit from ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

Between 1958 and 1989, visitors to Disneyland were greeted with the iconic original Disneyland sign on Harbour Boulevard. This photo is from 1959.

Dave DeCaro/TASCHENCars file past the Disneyland sign in Anaheim, California, in 1959.

The buildings of the Rainbow Ridge mining town were a colourful part of the park. It’s now closed as an accessible area, but the buildings are still there, and can be seen from the queue to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

This photo shows the park being opened on July 17, 1955. The drawbridge to the Sleeping Beauty Castle was officially lowered, and children ran across to celebrate the event.

Getty Images/Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/TASCHEN

While Disney’s parks have embraced the company’s modern titles, its classic characters have charmed visitors for decades. Monstro the hale from “Pinocchio,” pictured here in 1956, guards the entrance to the Storybook Land Canal Boats.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

And Disney’s parks have always looked to the future. In 1955, 14 years before astronauts visited the moon for the first time, the “Rocket to the Moon” and “Astro-Jets” attractions allowed guests to imagine themselves blasting into space.


Disney’s creations have always been widely marketed. In 1959, you could buy a metal lunchbox with two of Tomorrowland’s new attractions: the “Disneyland-Alweg Monorail” and “Submarine Voyage.”

Jordan Reichek Collection/Van Eaton Galleries/TASCHEN

Visitors to Tomorrowland used to be met at the entrance by the “Clock of the World” which told the time in 24 time zones. It was meant to hint at the futuristic and forward-looking nature of this section of the park. This sketch is from 1954, before Disneyland first opened.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

The iconic “It’s a Small World” ride actually started as an exhibition at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Disney asked artist Mary Blair, who had previously been a colour stylist and designer at The Walt Disney Studios during the 1940s and 1950s, to design the attraction. Here is some of the early artwork.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

Small-scale models for the “Pirates of the Carribean” attraction were made so that Disney could study them from every angle that a guest would see them from. Disney oversaw the construction of the attraction, but it opened after his death in 1966. In this picture, an employee called Harriet Burns is helping to make the models.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

And Disneyland is looking to its future as well as its past. This early conceptual rendering of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge park, due to open in 2019, shows the company’s vision for one of the biggest expansions in its history.

2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc/TASCHEN

“Sometimes Disneyland feels like it has always been here, as if it just grew out of the Earth fully formed. The park created by Walt Disney has become such an integral part of our lives, such a piece of Americana, that we forget those original 160 acres in Anaheim were once just another orange grove,” author Chris Nichols writes in “Welcome to Disneyland.”


“Walt Disney’s Disneyland” is available from TASCHEN.

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