Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Disneyland During Walt's Time

By Keith Mahne

 Have you ever wondered what Disneyland was like during Walt's time? I recently set out to try and answer that question, to really get a good idea of what Disneyland was like during the years Walt was still calling the shots. I wanted to know how many people were employed, attendance figures, highlights and even what the payroll may have been. After a bit of research, I now have those answers and would like to share them here with you. Continue after the page break as we take a look at Disneyland during the years of Walt...

When Disneyland opened in 1955, employees considered their jobs to be temporary as the park was expected to fail. Musicians, actors and entertainers where given only two week contracts.

Another thing to consider when Disneyland opened in 1955 is that Anaheim had only five hotels, two motels and 34 restaurants total in the city.

The thing that was so great about Disneyland during Walt's years was that Walt’s main concern was always for the guest and that all available money, after paying the bills of course, was to be spent on the show where the guest could see it. When an expensive administration building was proposed, Walt rejected it and stated “There isn’t going to be any administration building. The public isn’t coming here to see an administration building.” Dick Nunis told Disney historian Jim Korkis a story that Walt didn't want to put air conditioning in the Main Street Town Hall offices because he was fearful that his supervisors would hang out inside instead of circulating throughout the park and helping with the guests.


Walt once rejected the design for a building with the comment: “I think the fellow is attempting a monument to himself rather than designing something that is for people.”

Below is a list of what Disneyland was like during Walt's time:


  • Attendance: 1.2 million (remember this begins from mid-July)
  • Employment: 1,280
  • Payroll: $6,350,000
  • Disneyland opens July 17
  • Eighteen major attractions along with three “free” non ticketed ones
  • Disneyland welcomes its 1 millionth visitor


  • Attendance: 3.8 million
  • Employment: 2,190
  • Payroll: $7.8 million
  • Thirteen new attractions added including Tom Sawyer Island, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Skyway Journey, Astro-Jets, Junior Autopia and Rainbow Cavern Mine Train
  • “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks display debuts
  • Disneyland welcomes its 5 millionth visitor



  • Attendance: 4.3 million
  • Employment: 2,960
  • Payroll: $10 million
  • Eight new attractions added including House of the Future, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Thru and Midget Autopia



  • Attendance: 4.4 million
  • Employment: 3,450
  • Payroll: $10.5 million
  • Additions include Main Street Fire Trucks, Sailing Ship Columbia, Alice in Wonderland, Grand Canyon Diorama



  • Attendance: 5 million
  • Employment: 3,650
  • Payroll: $12 million
  • Submarine Voyage, Disneyland-Alweg Monorail, Matterhorn Mountain and Bobsleds, Motor Boat Cruise added
  • Tradition of Rose Bowl teams visiting Disneyland begins with the University of Washington and the University of Wisconsin
  • Premier Krushchev of Russia denied Disneyland visit


  • Attendance: 4.9 million
  • Employment: 3,693
  • Payroll: $12.2 million
  • Nature’s Wonderland, America the Beautiful and Art of Animation
  • Total number of park attractions: 45
  • Disneyland hosted its first Private Party for outside groups on May 13th when 5,042 Knight of Columbus enjoyed exclusive use of Disneyland 



  • Attendance: 4.7 million
  • Employment: 3,819
  • Payroll: $12.5 million
  • Disneyland-Alweg Monorail system expands to connect with Disneyland Hotel
  • New and popular attraction: Flying Saucers
  • First all-night Grad Nite Party held in June
  • Tinker Bell begins summer flights from peak of Matterhorn to set off “Fantasy In the Sky” fireworks



  • Attendance: 5.1 million
  • Employment: 3,880
  • Payroll: $13 million
  • Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Safari Game Shoot, Plaza Pavilion Restaurant, Tahitian Terrace and new scenes on Jungle Cruise


  • Attendance: 5.6 million
  • Employment: 4,106
  • Payroll: $13.8 million
  • Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
  • First cultural exhibit: “Salute to Mexico”




  • Attendance: 5.9 million
  • Employment: 4,190
  • Payroll: $15 million
  • Below deck sailing quarters on Columbia Sailing Ship and Trapped Safari/African Veldt added to Jungle Cruise
  • “Fantasy On Parade” Christmas parade debuts



  • Attendance: 6.4 million
  • Employment: 4,590
  • Payroll: $15,500,000
  • Celebration of Disneyland Tencennial
  • Very first Disneyland Ambassador: Julie Reihm


  • Attendance: 6.7 million
  • Employment: 4,580
  • Payroll: $18,800,000
  • "it's a small world," Primeval World addition, New Orleans Square

During the year after Walt passed in 1967, Disneyland celebrated the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean and the New Tomorrowland with the Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, a re-designed Flight to the Moon and Rocket Jets. Also in 1967, attendance jumped to almost 8 million and in 1968 to just over 9 million and then stayed at roughly 10 million people a year every year up until 1979. In 1968, employment jumped to 5,510 and at the end of 1979 it was up to 7,609 while payroll in 1968 was $25.4 million and by 1979, $66.4 million.

Walt once said, “Disneyland is not just another amusement park. It’s unique, and I want it kept that way. Besides, you don’t work for a dollar—you work to create and have fun.” Thanks Walt!

Thanks to Jim Korkis for sharing these Disneyland statistics with us.


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.    

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