A propulsive and “entertaining” (The Wall Street Journal) history chronicling the conception and creation of the iconic Disneyland theme park, as told like never before by popular historian Richard Snow.
One day in the early 1950s, Walt Disney stood looking over 240 acres of farmland in Anaheim, California, and imagined building a park where people “could live among Mickey Mouse and Snow White in a world still powered by steam and fire for a day or a week or (if the visitor is slightly mad) forever.” Despite his wealth and fame, exactly no one wanted Disney to build such a park. Not his brother Roy, who ran the company’s finances; not the bankers; and not his wife, Lillian. Amusement parks at that time, such as Coney Island, were a generally despised business, sagging and sordid remnants of bygone days. Disney was told that he would only be heading toward financial ruin.
But Walt persevered, initially financing the park against his own life insurance policy and later with sponsorship from ABC and the sale of thousands and thousands of Davy Crockett coonskin caps. Disney assembled a talented team of engineers, architects, artists, animators, landscapers, and even a retired admiral to transform his ideas into a soaring yet soothing wonderland of a park. The catch was that they had only a year and a day in which to build it.
On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates…and the first day was a disaster. Disney was nearly suicidal with grief that he had failed on a grand scale. But the curious masses kept coming, and the rest is entertainment history. Eight hundred million visitors have flocked to the park since then. In Disney’s Land, “Snow brings a historian’s eye and a child’s delight, not to mention superb writing, to the telling of this fascinating narrative” (Ken Burns) that “will entertain Disneyphiles and readers of popular American history” (Publishers Weekly).
Former American Heritage editor-in-chief Snow (Iron Dawn) tells the story of Disneyland from the park's ground-breaking to its five-year anniversary in this immensely readable history. According to Snow, Walt Disney was inspired to create the world's first "theme" park by the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair and a visit to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village outside Detroit. Because it was the first of its kind, Disneyland's rides had to be built from scratch, frequently on-site, and data-tracking methods, such as "per capita visitor expenditures" and "on-site crowd densities," had to be invented. Among the many people who helped create the park, Snow profiles Joe Fowler, a U.S. Navy submarine designer who built the Mark Twain steamboat, and landscape architect Ruth Shellhorn, who redesigned whole sections of the park after trees and shrubs were initially planted haphazardly. Expecting 11,000 visitors for its "Press Preview Day" in July 1955, the park got nearly 30,000. Many of the rides failed; none of the water fountains worked. Newspapers declared it a disaster, but paying guests weren't deterred. By early 1956, Snow writes, Disneyland was "regularly drawing crowds 50 percent above the most optimistic projections." This joyful, lavishly detailed account will entertain Disneyphiles and readers of popular American history.