65 Years Later, ‘Disneyland ‘59’ Shows Company at ‘the Forefront of Innovation’

A mere four years after the 1955 opening of the Disneyland Resort — and 65 years ago this Friday — Walt Disney welcomed celebrities, fans, and even a full television crew to witness an event so grand, it felt like a “second opening” of Disneyland.

During a TV special on ABC titled Kodak Presents Disneyland ’59, Walt showed off six new and updated attractions as part of the first ever major expansion of Disneyland.

“Disneyland formally introduced the iconic E-Ticket attractions Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System,” Mike Buckhoff of the Walt Disney Archives, said. There was also “an all-new Skyway experience — which flew guests through the caverns of the Matterhorn’s Glacier Grotto — the reopening of the Motor Boat Cruise, and the Fantasyland Autopia.”

Never Finished

Walt Disney once remarked that “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

Seeking to ensure that all areas of the park were as robust as others, and that guests would regularly have something new to enjoy with each visit, Disneyland — and later all other Disney parks and resorts — would thrive on innovation.

However, innovation isn’t so simple, and ideas can push beyond the limits of what’s possible at the time.

Buckhoff states that Walt would “regularly envision changes and expansions for his new theme park, even as the turnstiles began revolving with the entry of the first guests to Disneyland in 1955.”

Forward Thinking Innovation

“Since the very beginning, Disneyland attractions and experiences have been at the forefront of innovation,” Buckhoff noted.

While traveling across the globe, Walt would often find new ideas to implement at his park.

“Ever the forward thinker, Walt drew inspiration from the innovative monorail systems of Europe which he adapted to fit his Tomorrowland ideals,” Buckhoff said. “And the Matterhorn mountain was based on the towering peak in Switzerland which he visited during the filming of 1959’s Third Man on the Mountain.”

But to translate his inspiration into attractions, Walt needed time to allow his engineers at WED Enterprises (later Walt Disney Imagineering) to create what he had envisioned.

By 1959, “advancements in technology and available storytelling methods were providing some of the necessary tools for the creative evolution that Walt intended and actively sought out,” according to Buckhoff.

Buckhoff added that Matterhorn Bobsleds “was no exception, as it was the first roller-coaster style thrill ride at Disneyland and was also the first to use tubular steel tracks and an electronic dispatch system which allowed more than one car to be on the track at one time.”

Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn, Skyway, and the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System

Of those new additions introduced in 1959, Buckhoff explained that the most influential may have been the Monorail.

It “would go on to serve as not only an enjoyable voyage,” ­­­­Buckhoff said, “but also an efficient means of transportation at other Disney sites, such as the Walt Disney World Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort.

For the Nation to See

“Well Walt… how do you feel?” Disney Legend Art Linkletter asked.

“Like an expectant father: nervous, but wonderful,” Walt Disney replied from in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Those were the words that greeted viewers when they tuned in to ABC on June 15, 1959 to view the broadcast of Kodak Presents Disneyland ’59, “an event chock-full of lively entertainment, including an extravagant parade down Main Street, U.S.A.,” Buckhoff stated.

“Walt Disney understood the rising importance of television in the 1950s,” Buckhoff added. He “quickly realized the medium could be an important asset to his theme park venture.”

Just as he had done with Dateline Disneyland, which showcased the opening of Disneyland on national television, “Disneyland ’59 afforded Walt Disney priceless publicity for the new adventures that awaited guests at the park,” Buckhoff declared.

The broadcast wouldn’t only live on television. “The Disney studio later released a 25-minute Technicolor featurette of the festivities in theatres entitled Gala Day at Disneyland.” Buckhoff explained.

Still Innovating

Six and a half decades later, Disneyland Resort is getting ready to welcome in yet another new era of growth.

The company is investing $1.9 billion in the resort over the next 10 years through DisneylandForward.

“Now, it’s time for the next chapter in the legacy of Disneyland,” said Ken Potrock, President of the Disneyland Resort. “We’re ready to build on decades of innovation, creativity, and storytelling to bring new, exciting experiences for our guests.”

And the growth doesn’t stop in Anaheim.

Disney Experiences has opened a bevy of new lands and attractions all over the world, and has announced plans to turbocharge growth in its Experiences segment with even more new and exciting developments in the years to come.

Much like Walt did with Disneyland ’59, the company continues to regularly imagine and implement new innovations at its parks and experiences across the globe.