This Disneyland Fan Was The First Customer To Set Foot In The Park

Disneyland’s joyful atmosphere attracts people of all ages, not just children. So when a college student from Long Beach heard that the park was opening, he was sure to be the first in line. He showed up in the middle of the night to do this. In the summer of 1955, a long trail followed in his wake as the first Disneyland opened its gates. The park’s first customer is still a loyal fan today, returning to the park annually. Read on to discover why this man has been so devoted to the famous amusement park.

Television Influenced Disneyland’s Grand Premier

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Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Though television stations have existed since the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that they became the primary source through which the public formed their opinions. The impact of the television helped Disney spread the world and create excitement around the theme park that would be coming to Anaheim, California.

In order to get the public excited, they filmed celebrities at the park before it was opened to the public. When 21-year-old Dave MacPherson saw the opening festivities on television, he decided he wanted to be the first regular customer to enter the park.

The Park Was Highly Anticipated

Walt Disney stands before a map of Disneyland.
Earl Theisen/Getty Images
Earl Theisen/Getty Images

Walt Disney first conceptualized the idea of his park in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1953 that he bought a park large enough to showcase his grand ideas. Construction began in 1954, and by July 17, 1955, the park was broadcasted on ABC Television Network.

Fans had been eager to visit the studios, but Disney wanted to provide them with an atmosphere that would transcend the relatively mild experience of walking studio grounds. Influenced by other theme parks, he devised a project that ultimately cost $17 million to build.

The Opening Day Was Larger Than Expected

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Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Disneyland officially opened on July 17, 1955, however, there were restrictions. The initial first day was intended to consist of only a select crowd consisting primarily of celebrities and the media. People were so eager to attend the event that double the amount of invited guests showed up.

Those who were not invited purchased counterfeit tickets or hopped the fence. This resulted in nearly 30,000 people arriving to an exclusive event. The masses of people only worked to further entice viewers who saw the event unfold on television.

Black Sunday

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USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

The additional and unexpected guests on July 17, 1955 resulted in a barrage of unintended mishaps. Harbor Boulevard, the street leading to the park, was highly congested. A plumber’s strike resulted in all of the water fountains being turned off. Fortunately, the toilets still worked.

However, the lack of water fountains resulted in speculation that it was a ploy to get customers to purchase sodas from vendors. In actuality, the vendors didn’t have the supplies to support double the expected guests and ended up running out of food. While the day is still deemed Disneyland’s official birthday, amongst employees it became known as “Black Sunday.”

Dave Meets Disneyland

Dave gives the okay sign while buying his ticket to enter Disneyland.
Nan Frips/Pinterest
Nan Frips/Pinterest

Fortunately for Dave MacPherson, he didn’t have to witness all of the commotions of July 17th. Instead, he did the honorable thing and waited until the public’s opening day on July 18th. He arrived at 2 o’clock in the morning to ensure that he would be the first person to purchase a ticket at the park.

Children gathered tightly behind the college student as he made his way past the gates of the park. As the first guest, the park would have looked predominantly empty for those initial moments. The magic of Disneyland kept Dave coming back for decades to come.

The First Of Its Kind

Crowds gather at the front of Disneyland.
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

Disneyland now has six parks around the world, but the opening in California was its first. The lines were tremendously long since the park was unlike any of its competitors. Since Disney already had generations of loyal fans who grew up watching its beloved characters, the park was bound to be a wild success.

Though Dave MacPherson was not the first person to step foot in the park, he was the first willing customer to enter who was not a celebrity and who did not sneak in. In essence, he was the first legitimate customer of Disneyland.

His Fantasy Came True

Patrons flood the entrance to Fantasyland.
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Fantasyland Castle is one of the most recognizable parts of Disneyland, and Dave was one of the first in the public to see it. He rode his motorbike from Long Beach to Anaheim and waited all night to get his ticket.

Disney History quotes Dave saying, “I decided I wanted to be the first in line. The first person to go to the park who wasn’t a relative of Walt’s or some celebrity. The first regular guy to go in through the front door.”

An Unforgettable Moment

Crowds pass beneath the tram in Tomorrowland.
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Disney History reports that the experience was something Dave would never forget. He stood in front of 6,000 others who lined up behind him. He also was able to see Walt Disney himself.

The theme park went beyond what most other parks had by implementing different “lands”. In doing so, there was something to appeal to everyone’s interest. Above is a photo a Tomorrowland, a futuristic-themed part of the park where guests could pretend that they’d been transported to the future.

Flashback

Men ride horseback into Frontierland.
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

Walt Disney went all-out to make sure that guests felt consumed by the land they had visited. It was of the utmost importance that the park establishes itself as something grand from the start. It was also vital that it live up to visitors’ expectations.

In Frontierland, Disney decided to have real horses ridden throughout the town to add to the authenticity. The amusement park wasn’t just for rides; it was also for performances. This created an immersed entertainment experience.

Giant Props Brought The Stories To Life

A pirate ship is crowded with children at Disneyland.
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

In addition to having various lands, the park also had giant props and backdrops. A pirate ship, snowy mountains, jungle forests, a riverboat gave guests the feeling of being somewhere else. Visitors traveled to the past, the future, and all over the different landscapes of the world just by exploring the massive park.

Though the park is catered to children, the impressive design made it appealing to adults, and certainly to 22-year-old Dave MacPherson. Disneyland was also renowned amongst Hollywood stars and public figures.

Solace In The Heat

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Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The heat of Southern California’s inland town of Anaheim was intense in the summer of 1955. Reportedly on Disney’s initial opening day, July 17, 1955, the temperature broke 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, Disney was sure to implement restaurants throughout the park where guests could find shade and refreshments.

Today, there are nearly 50 restaurants in Disneyland alone, not including California Adventure, Downtown Disney, nor its hotels. The restaurants are strategically placed so that every land has several eateries, ensuring that guests never have to go too far for food and beverage.

Meeting Favored Characters

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck walk together in front of Fantasyland.
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

For the most avid Disney fans, the greatest part of visiting Disneyland was seeing their admired Disney characters come to life. Here, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are pictured walking hand-in-hand in front of Fantasyland.

Particularly for young children who didn’t know that these characters were humans in a costume, the idea of going somewhere and seeing their favorite Disney idols walking around was thrilling. Similar to meeting Santa at a shopping mall, the concept allowed children to meet someone they admired in a casual setting where the characters could seem just like them.

The Famous Parade

Snow White's parade float makes its way down Main Street.
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images
USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

While the characters wander throughout the park and perform in shows, the best way to be sure to see every character was by watching the Disney parade. Since the parade is set along main street, guests can feel as though they are in a neighborhood that joined all of the lands throughout the park.

Today, Disneyland offers an array of spectacular parades that technological advances now allow for. These include the Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, the Main Street Electrical Parade, and special seasonal parades.

Which Day Is The True Opening Day?

An aerial view shows a crowded Disneyland.
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Prior to the death of Walt and Roy Disney (Walt’s older brother and co-founder of the Walt Disney Company), July 17th was considered a mere preview of Disneyland, which the 18th was deemed the official opening day. Considering that the 17th was trumped by numerous delinquent guests and subsequent mayhem, it makes sense that Disney didn’t want that to be recognized as the park’s first official day.

However, this was changed later on due to the televised broadcast that occurred on the 17th. Particularly for those who witnessed the televised event, as Dave had, the day was the first time that the public had experienced Disneyland, virtually or in reality. For this reason, July 17, 1955, is the official birthday of the theme park.

The One Thing That Dave Missed Out On

Walt Disney sits on a bench in an empty Disneyland.
Gene Lester/Getty Images
Gene Lester/Getty Images

Of all of the incredible experiences Dave had that first day at the park, he says his only regret is that he never shook the hand of Walt Disney. He did get to see Walt, however, as he was present at the park often in those initial days.

Walt Disney probably had to put some effort into not being bombarded by rambunctious fans. Between that and the massive crowds, it’s understandable that Dave only caught a glimpse of the man who created the amusement park and Disney empire.

Disney Gave Dave A Present

Dave poses with a Disney crew member while holding up his Disney pass.
Reddit
Reddit

In honor of Dave’s commitment to being the first to enter the park, Dave was given a lifetime pass to Disneyland. Back when the park first opened, admission was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Even with accounting for inflation, that’s significantly less than a ticket costs today.

Part of why prices have gone up is due to the fact that the park has significantly expanded. The first time Dave entered the park, there were 18 attractions. Today, there are more than 50 attractions not including California Adventure.

Dave Is Famous

Dave shakes hands with a Disney crew member.
Creative Meni/Tumblr
Creative Meni/Tumblr

When using his pass, Dave is sure to always have his I.D. on him. He also brings newspaper clippings that confirm that he was the first Disneyland customer. Once the crew member who is manning the gate discovers who he is, they often will make an announcement to the rest of the people in line.

Dave told Disney History that those who hear he was the first often will come up and ask for his autograph. Some will even ask to take a photo with him and his wife, Wanda.

Not Your Ordinary Pass

Dave and his wife pose before the Mickey Mouse lawn.
Creative Meni/Tumblr
Creative Meni/Tumblr

Walt Disney really set Dave up with the pass he gave him. It isn’t just an ordinary annual pass; it’s a V.I.P. Pass. This means that it provides complimentary parking and admission to Dave and three additional guests!

The pass also allows him admission into California Adventure and any other Disney park across the world, excluding Tokyo and Hong Kong. The pass also includes a signature from the CEO of Disney to provide further validation.

Dave Has Seen It All

The Star Wars attraction at Disneyland is shown from above.
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Having been a regular visitor of Disneyland since 1955, Dave has seen the park transform more than most. Even the crew member who has worked there the longest didn’t start until 1956. This has afforded Dave the ability to watch the park grow and transform.

Along with the additions of California Adventure and Downtown Disney in 2001, Disneyland has also added numerous rides and attractions. One of the newer additions was the Star Wars attraction, which covers 14 acres of the park.

Still A Loyal Fan

Dave wears Mickey Mouse ears while standing in an open expanse.
Reddit
Reddit

84 million Mickey Mouse ears have been sold since 1955, making them the park’s most popular souvenir. However, the worn-out ears that Dave’s wearing is amongst the first that were sold. Though Dave and his wife now live in Kansas, they make an effort to visit Disneyland annually.

Disneyland now has six parks across the world, and Dave has free access to nearly all of them. However, he continues to return to the park that he first experienced, the one that he participated in the opening of.