Sixty Years of Innovation: Disneyland, Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom

Erin Glover

by , Director, Publicity, Walt Disney Animation Studios

As we count down the weeks to the beginning of the Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration on May 22, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at some of the innovations that the Happiest Place on Earth has seen throughout its first sixty years. Let’s start with the biggest innovation of all – Disneyland itself – recalled in Walt Disney’s own words.

For those of us who grew up in the time after Disneyland opened, it’s hard to imagine a time without theme parks. But that’s how it was when Walt Disney had his idea for a place where the young and young-at-heart could have fun together.

Walt and Lillian Disney with Their Daughters at The Golden Horseshoe at Disneyland Park

“It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters,” Walt said. “I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things—sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts—I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started.”

Walt set out to build a place like no other. At the time, amusement parks were notorious for being dirty and unsafe. As Walt recalled, “When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park? They’re so dirty.’ I told her that was just the point—mine wouldn’t be.”

Walt Disney Describes Disneyland Park

Disneyland was to be so much more than an amusement park . . . Walt envisioned an entire fantasy world that would bring stories and imagination to life. “Disneyland is like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass,” he said. “To step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world.”

Walt Disney on the Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland Park

He also wanted Disneyland to be a reflection of American life. Growing up in a small midwestern town had an enormous impact on Walt, and he wanted to bring that sense of pride and hope to all who came to this happy place.

“Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself,” he said. “It would encompass the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge of the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of the imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and above all, a sense of strength, contentment and well-being.”

In the years since, Disneyland has become the standard by which other theme parks are measured. Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom has stood the test of time, due to constant innovation, unlimited imagination and the fond memories that have been made here.

“But it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too.”


  • Hi! I have never seen that last picture. Where can I find out more? Thanks!

    • It’s one of my favorites! We originally shared it in this blog post.

  • @Erin — the 60s will showcase audioanimatronics! With perhaps the Tiki Room or (my fave) Pirates of the Caribbean as the example. 😀

    • Perhaps …

  • My love for Disney began when I was a child in 1966/1967 when my family visited Disneyland for the first and only time. I love the history and the value Disney brings to my life. We are coming for the Diamond Celebration and get so excited that I get to visit again. I get teary eyed thinking of visiting a place that started it all for me.

  • Wow, Arizona Mike, that is a fantastic line. It gave me chills.

    It’s just hard to imagine that one man could have so much vision and, more importantly, perseverance to create such a singularly wonderful place. I can’t imagine my life without Disneyland.

  • Fantastic post. I love seeing Disney heritage content!

  • Great post Erin. That last photo of Walt is great. And this post sounds like the start of a series? Looking forward to it!

    • Thanks, Dustin! And yes – I’ll add a new one each week from each decade. Next week will be the 1960s, so any guesses on which innovation I’ll choose from that decade?

  • Erin,

    Great Post!!! The history and traditions are an invaluable part of the fabric of Disneyland; important to all of the Park’s fans but especially to those of us old enough to remember it from the beginning. The first photo is one of my favorites and the history behind it is a story all its own! In September 2013 I was I was fortunate to get to meet Diane Disney Miller and express in person the admiration I held for her father and his many creations. When asked about the meeting by my many Disney friends I simply say “I held the hand that Walt held when he dreamed of building Disneyland”. I hope we never lose sight of the rich history of the place I hold so dear.

    Arizona Mike

    • Thanks, Mike! What a lovely memory. And you’re right – that first photo has a wonderful story, which you can read about here!

  • This is a wonderful post, Erin! You shared so many of my favorite quotes from Uncle Walt. 🙂 I look forward to reading more as we get closer to the Diamond Celebration.

    • Thanks, Bob! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

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