Most every year, early in July, fights break out on discussion boards as to which day should mark Disneyland’s true anniversary—July 17th or July 18th? The problem is that Disneyland has itself celebrated its birthday on both days. During Walt’s lifetime, the event was celebrated on July 18th; years after Walt’s passing, the celebration was shifted to July 17th.
Why two different days?
July 17th, 1955 was officially International Press Preview Day—a day on which no admission tickets were sold and rides were freely open to all invited guests. This event was famously telecast on ABC, an event that garnered millions of viewers at home. On the following day, July 18th, Disneyland opened to the paying public, with hopeful guests lining up at the ticket gates long before sunrise. This second date, July 18th, is the one that the park marked as its official anniversary for years. (If you want a little proof, just check out that July 19, 1960 article from the LA Times.) Over time the park shifted its celebration from July 18th to July 17th, allowing the anniversary to coincide with the original Press Preview Day—the day on which Walt Disney stood in Town Square and announced, “To all who come to this happy place, welcome.”
So on which day should Disneyland celebrate its birthday?
I have no idea as to which is the more historically appropriate date to add another year on to the age of Disneyland. But for me, personally, I prefer July 17th as the more important of the two dates. Though Roy O. Disney and original Disneyland accountant Milt Albright may disagree, I feel that the more significant achievement was not the moment that Disneyland took in its first dollar; rather, it was the day that Walt Disney announced that his vision to create his own amusement park was realized—a unique park that relied on atmosphere, architecture and landscaping as much as it did on rides to capture the interest and sway the emotions of its guests. So the event I personally mark on July 17th is not so much the opening of a business—though, of course, Disneyland Inc., was a business—rather the event I mark on July 17th is that of a vision completed.
Or at least completed well enough to allow guests to enter through its gates.
-Todd J. Pierce