While Walt Disney prepared to open Disneyland Resort on July 17, 1955, an eager college student was at the Park gate by 2:00 a.m., ready to experience the Park’s magic as Disneyland’s first customer.
Disney’s first customer to buy a Disneyland ticket and enter the Disneyland Park on its opening day, July 17, 1955, was a man named David MacPherson. He was a 22-year-old college student from Long Beach, California, and he arrived at the Park at around 2:00 a.m. on opening day to secure his place in line for early entry.
MacPherson purchased ticket number 2, as ticket number 1 was reserved for Walt Disney. He later recalled that he rode the Jungle Cruise and the Peter Pan Flight attractions and witnessed the opening day’s chaos and crowds. MacPherson went on to become a successful attorney in Southern California and remained a fan of Disneyland throughout his life.
“Disneyland’s First Customer Still Uses His Lifetime Pass”
Dave MacPherson, July 18, 1955
By Tom Wharton with The Salt Lake Tribune (2017)
The clippings from the Los Angeles Mirror-News, The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Examiner and The Long Beach Independent are faded now. So is the photo of 22-year-old Dave MacPherson giving the OK sign as he became the first customer to buy a ticket to Disneyland when it opened to the public July 18, 1955.
But the now-72-year-old MacPherson is anything but faded.
A humor columnist for the San Juan County newspaper, he lives in a cabin in Monticello.
He escaped what he calls “Quakafornia” 20 years ago, but still uses his lifetime pass to visit Disneyland regularly.
“I am old enough to be historical,” MacPherson said.
When Disneyland opened, MacPherson lived 10 miles away from the then-sleepy farm town of Anaheim. He was a student at Long Beach State University, where he worked for the college newspaper.
He watched the hoopla of the “invited guests only” televised opening on July 17 — a Sunday — seeing guests such as Ronald Reagan and Art Linkletter join founder Walt Disney. Some commentators said the new theme park would be “Walt’s Folly” because of myriad opening-day problems.
MacPherson rode his Simplex motorbike, capable of going about 30 mph, to the big parking lot to be the first person in line.
“I had it in my mind to be the first,” he recalled. “I would have said forget it if someone was there. But I was the first person.”
It was 2 a.m. and MacPherson heard technicians testing animal sounds for the Jungle Cruise ride. Before the day was over, 6,000 people would queue up behind him.
The former newspaper reporter offered these observations on that first day:
* Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, requested the first printed ticket for his grandchildren’s memorabilia.
* The Park opened a day early for special guests and the news media. Some printed counterfeit tickets and some party crashers climbed over fences surrounding the attraction.
* When Disneyland opened for the public on that hot, humid Monday, Walt Disney posed with Michael Schwartner and Christine Vess, the first two children in line.
“Since I wasn’t Walt’s relative or a special guest or party crasher on the 17th, or a youngster on the 18th, I had only one option,” MacPherson said. “Employing the hard work and initiative that Walt had admired in persons like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, I focused on being first in line on the 18th.”
MacPherson was the first to enter the park. But, surprisingly, he did not ride any of the new attractions or get Walt Disney’s autograph.
“I was still in school,” he recalled. “I was dead tired. People were fainting in the parking lot. I had to get back to school.”
Sometime later, the Monticello resident learned he had won a lifetime pass to Disneyland for himself and three guests. He has received that annual card each year since 1955. Its use has expanded to Disney parks in Florida and France.
MacPherson has used the pass often. His favorite ride is the Enchanted Tiki Room, an attraction he says is “for the birds.” He also likes the Haunted Mansion. But he misses the 360-degree movie.
The last time he went to Disneyland was in 2004. But the first member of the public to buy a ticket to “the Happiest Place on Earth” probably hasn’t seen the last of the Park he helped open.
The above is a photo of Disneyland’s first customer, Dave MacPherson, today.
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More About Disneyland’s Opening Day
The opening day of Disneyland Resort was July 17, 1955. Walt Disney had been working on the concept and development of the Park for years, and after a lot of planning and construction, Disneyland finally opened its gates to the public on that day. The opening ceremony was broadcast live on ABC television and featured appearances by Walt Disney and other celebrities.
Despite some early challenges and unexpected issues, the opening day was a huge success, with thousands of visitors flocking to the Park to experience the magic of Disneyland for the first time. Today, the opening day is remembered as a historic moment in the entertainment industry and a milestone in the development of theme parks.
Now, the Disney Resort consists of two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. In addition to the theme parks, the Disneyland Resort also includes a shopping, dining, and entertainment district called Downtown Disney. Additionally, the Resort has three on-property hotels, including the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.