Four Firsts at Disneyland Park

Erin Glover

by , Director, Publicity, Walt Disney Animation Studios

Disneyland park has been innovating for 61 years – ever since it opened on July 17, 1955. In fact, the park itself was an innovation, and continued to lead the way in creating immersive experiences in the years to follow. Let’s look at four amazing innovations that have come out of Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom.

1. First theme park – Disneyland was the world’s very first theme park. At the time, amusement parks were dirty and unsafe, leading Walt’s wife, Lillian, to ask him why he’d want to build one. His now-famous response: “Mine wouldn’t be.”

Walt Disney pioneered the idea of a theme park as family entertainment for the entire family. He envisioned a place where children and their parents could have fun together – an idea that quickly spread throughout the world and revolutionized family travel. Disneyland is considered the first truly immersive, themed 3D storytelling experience, influencing concepts for modern-day experiences like resorts and interactive museum exhibits.

Four Firsts at Disneyland Park - First daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere

2. First daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere – When the Disneyland Monorail opened in 1959, no other monorail operated daily on this side of the planet. This futuristic concept of transportation immediately captured guests’ imaginations and is still a favorite today.

Four Firsts at Disneyland Park - First tubular steel roller coaster

3. First tubular steel roller coaster – The Matterhorn Bobsleds may be a nostalgic treat today, but when it opened in 1959, it was the first of its kind. The first to employ a tubular steel track, this innovative attraction set the standard for modern-day roller-coaster design.

Four Firsts at Disneyland Park - First use of Audio-Animatronic technology

4. First use of Audio-Animatronics technology – The now-ubiquitous Audio-Animatronics figures that are both synonymous with Disney Parks and also imitated around the world were first seen in “Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room” in Adventureland at Disneyland park. The technology has grown and evolved through the years, and it keeps amazing guests at Disney Parks around the world.


  • I agree that the “first theme park” statement probably is not accurate. There’s no question that it took it to new levels but Knott’s has been making the claim for many years.

    More of a concern to me is the repetition of the myth that Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room was the first use of Audio Animatronics. It was a high degree of refinement but it was not the first. The term was used for the public in 1960 for Nature’s Wonderland on the gate flyer that was patterned after the 1869 Union Pacific Golden Spike Ceremony poster.

    Early mechanical animation in the park (Jungle Cruise animals and “The Wonderful Wizard of Bras” emcee in the Hollywood-Maxwell Intimate Apparel shop have some of the elements going back to 1955 though some of these were loop animations that were not necessarily synchronized with sound in the earliest versions.

    Some of the Nature’s Wonderland animals were sophisticated in their motions and used the cam discs that were also used for Pirates of the Caribbean and other attractions. The articles of the time in the newspapers even mentioned recording the control signals on magnetic tape.

    I’d like to see a full history of Audio Animatronics and the important evolution and developments. The Tiki Room as first either needs to be carefully qualified with conditional words that place it in context or abandoned as a statement in the Disney timeline.

  • The article doesn’t say, Disneyland was the first theme park but basically the first great theme park that was clean and super family friendly.. And it’s nice to see that Disney is still #1. You can totally tell the difference between a six flags and Disneyland. Can’t wait for our trip back in November, we live in Nevada and go at least twice a year.

  • I recall a Disney-centric podcast, though it’s name escapes me (perhaps WDW Radio) mentioning that the term “theme park” was first used by a journalist who wrote an article reviewing Disneyland during its first months of opening. So although there may have been other parks before DL, DL caused the term to be used, and well, the rest is history! Nice article Erin!

  • If you read the post and understood what Erin was trying to say it will become clear. “Disneyland is considered the first truly immersive, themed 3D storytelling experience…”

    No other place could you step into a story-line, interact with its characters, feel and see what the characters felt and saw and take home a piece of the story. Disney doesn’t just show you the theme, it IMMERSES you into it. You not only get to watch the movie at the theater, you get to feel and touch the movie as well, (Sleeping Beauty Castle, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Toy Story Midway Mania… the list goes on and on).

    Plus you get the added bonus of taking the THEME home with you as well. (toys, stuffed animals, t shirts, hats, pins and much, much more).

    That is what made Disneyland stand alone back in 1955, and continues to make it special today.

  • Likewise, Santa Claus land (Now holiday world) opened in 1948 in Christmas Indiana.

  • Holiday World in Indiana also claims to be the first theme park–starting as Santa Claus Land in 1946 in Santa Claus, IN. But there is no doubt the Disneyland changed everything, so for that I certainly give Walt all credit!

  • I agree with Sarah. Knott’s Berry Farm has always been called “America’s First Theme Park.” As much as I love Disneyland, I’m curious just how it can call itself the “first” when it wasn’t.

  • I’ve heard it said that Knott’s Berry Farm was the “first theme park”, as he started building a Ghost Town for guests to enjoy back in the 1940s.
    What would you say gives Disneyland claim to that title?
    (I believe there are also some areas on the east coast that might claim the title.)
    Just curious.

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