David MacPherson, a 22-year-old student, arrived at Disneyland about midnight on July 17, 1955. The amusement park was holding a public grand opening the next morning and MacPherson wanted to be the first in line. He waited alone in the dark through the night, determined to be the first person to buy a ticket and enter the park. By dawn, the line had grown to 6,000 people, but MacPherson maintained his spot at the front. On the morning of July 18, 1955, Walt Disney arrived to greet guests at his new amusement park. He picked two children from the back of the line and allowed them to enter the park for free. Macpherson’s long night paid off, and he purchased the first ticket to enter Disneyland. After years of planning and preparation, Disneyland opened for the first time 65 years ago this month.
Walt Disney dreamed of creating a park that would delight children and adults alike. He started creating sketches of Disneyland as far back as 1932. Using the proceeds from successful movies like Snow White, Disney began formulating plans for an amusement park. He hired the Stanford Research Institute to investigate possible sites, attendance expectancy, and cost. Artists created thousands of sketches and architects worked feverishly on blueprints. A 1953 illustrated map of what Disneyland might look like sold for $708,000 at a 2017 auction! When the Stanford Research Institute recommended Anaheim as the best site for the park, Disney purchased a 160-acre orange grove and construction began.
As opening day approached, the highly anticipated park was called a modern “Wonder of the World.” One paper reported that “never in history has any attraction, including World Fairs, ever received so much advance publicity…and worldwide attention.” Tickets to enter Disneyland cost $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Parking cost 25 cents a day and the overall cost to build the park was $17 million.
Some 50,000 visitors flocked to Disneyland on opening day. Cars backed up for miles on the Santa Ana Freeway and the parking lot was filled to capacity by 10:00 a.m., leaving hundreds of cars waiting in line. David MacPherson walked around the park for a little while that first day, before heading back to campus to attend a class without riding a single ride. Although he was allowed to keep that first ticket as a souvenir, he sold it for 50 cents after leaving the park to buy gas to get home.
MacPherson’s night at the ticket booth, however, came with a big reward. He was given a lifetime pass to Disneyland. Each January he receives an annual pass for four which covers admissions, free parking, and rides.