Disneyland, 1965

USC Libraries

Disneyland was built in Anaheim, California, next to suburbs and orchards. It opened in 1955. Ten years later, a man flew over in an airplane and took photographs of the new park. You can see it in the photograph above: it's the large blob southwest of the freeway offramp loops. Its parking lots extend for acres to the south. The cars, neatly lined up into rows, look like Morse code from the sky. 

To the north and east, we see suburbia. To the west, orchards and a golf course. 

Let's zoom in on this artificial landscape. 

From here, we can begin to see the pieces of the park. The fake waters of Frontierland in the upper left. The circles and ships of Tomorrowland to the bottom right.

Everyone came in via Main Street, of course, right at 6 o'clock, closest to the parking lots. 

A 1965 map of Disneyland (Jim Cofer)

Around this time, perhaps a few years earlier, a Boy Scout troop went to Disneyland. They brought a camera with them, and someone shot a series of scenes that eventually found their way into the hands of film archivist Rick Prelinger

The film is silent. We watch Mickey lead a parade. A band plays. There's a scene filmed from a boat in Frontierland, drifting on the fake waters of American history. An animatronic Native American waves from the shore. A real human simulates a native dance. There are rides and more ships. The teacups. The teacups! Then a simulated submarine enters a cave. It all ends with a fireworks show.

This was Disneyland in 1965: a permanent World's Fair, an artificial ecosystem, a confused historical fiction, a grab bag of stereotypes, a continuous celebration of physical entertainment technology. All of it sitting in Anaheim, between orchards and tract homes.


Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus