4. OPENING DAY, 1955
Though the problem with Rivers of America was solved, some problems were only beginning and wouldn’t show themselves until Opening Day. Six thousand invitations had been sent out for the Grand Opening of Disneyland, but by mid-afternoon on Opening Day, more than 28,000 people had made their way to Disneyland. How could this be? Answer: counterfeit invitations—over 22,000 of them. Asphalt had been laid the night before and was steaming in the heat of the day. Ladies’ high-heeled shoes got stuck in the gooey asphalt.
A two-week heat wave caused temperatures to soar to 110 degrees on that warm July day, and because of a plumbers’ strike at the time, the water fountains wouldn’t work while the toilets worked, and vice versa. Because of this, Walt opted for the toilets to work. There was also a seven-mile backup on the freeway leading to Disneyland. To make matters worse, Fantasyland was temporarily closed on Opening Day because of a gas leak.
Despite the obstacles of Opening Day, there were still some positives. It was on Opening Day that Walt, age 53, made his famous speech from the podium, saying “To all who come to this happy place, welcome! Disneyland is your land!” Over 90 million people watched the opening via television. Admission prices were reasonable at $1 per person (about $9 today), which included three free attractions. Each of the 18 rides enjoyed after the initial 3 free attractions cost between ten and thirty-five cents each.
After being open only seven weeks, one million people had visited Disneyland. And that was only the beginning of proof that Disneyland was a wildly popular and profitable endeavor. In 1965, after being open 10 years, Disneyland would boast 50 million Guests.