Disneyland's original prospectus revealed!

Thanks to an anonymous benefactor, Boing Boing is pleased to present the first-ever look at the original Disneyland prospectus.

Thanks to an anonymous benefactor, Boing Boing is pleased to present the first-ever look at the original Disneyland prospectus. These extremely high-resolution scans were made from one of the three sets of pitch-documents Roy and Walt Disney used to raise the money to build Disneyland. There are no archive copies of this document. Neither the Walt Disney Company nor the Walt Disney Family Museum have it. But we certainly hope both organizations will download these documents for inclusion in their collections.

Roy Disney -- the Disney brother who controlled the company's finances - -- didn't like the idea of Disneyland at first. Walt Disney poached the best talent from the studios to help him flesh out his idea for a new kind of amusement park, eventually winning over Roy, who helped him raise the $17 million it took to build Disneyland.

The first animator Walt took into the project was the legendary Herb Ryman. Over the course of a weekend in 1953, Walt and Herb drew the storied first map of Disneyland, as pictured here. An additional eight typed pages of description and sales copy were added to these pages and the resulting "brochure" was used as an unsuccessful pitch session that Walt and Herb conducted for three different New York bankers.

This document changed hands at auction last year. The new owner has not indicated his interest in exhibiting or sharing the contents of this document. The new owner is Glenn Beck, a noted jerkface, so this is not surprising.

As for the document itself, there's a lot of interesting detail in it. I was quite struck by the extent to which the document focuses on Disneyland as a unique place to shop. This being the post-war boom-years, shopping was coming into its own as an American recreational passtime. And indeed, Disneyland has, at various times in its history, focused strongly on unique gifts. In the 1950s and 1960s, doing your Christmas shopping at Disneyland was quite the thing in LA (in those days, there was a separate, low charge for admission, and ride tickets were extra, so it was very cheap to pass through the gates in order to shop). In the 1970s and 1980s, the parks sported loads of wonderful, bespoke materials (I loved the Randotti souvenirs, especially the Haunted Mansion material). At various times since, the corporate emphasis on merchandise has varied wildly, though thoughtful, high-quality, distinctive merchandise now appears to be back in the mix.

But Walt's vision for what the company at one point called "merchantainment" (!) was more ambitious than anything yet realized inside the berm. Page one boasts of a "mail order catalogue" that will offer everything for sale at Disneyland (a kind of super-duper version of today's Disneyland Delivears). This catalogue was to feature actual livestock, including "a real pony or a miniature donkey thirty inches high."

Once we get to "True-Life Adventureland," we learn of even cooler (and less probable) living merchandise: "magnificently plumed birds and fantastic fish from all over the world...which may be purchased and shipped anywhere in the U.S. if you so desire."

The contrafactual Disneyland of 1953 wrestled with the future just as much as today's Disney parks do. The prospectus promises "slidewalks," a scientifically accurate space-simulator, robotic open kitchens and (of course) merchandise. But what merch! This being the golden age of science kits, Walt and Herb promised to send kids home from Disneyland with "scientific toys, chemical sets and model kits." We were also promised space-helmets. (I want a space helmet!)

Futurism and science fiction have been tough nuts for Disneyland to crack. When the park opened in 1955, there wasn't much budget to kit out Tomorrowland, so a bunch of corporate sponsors were quickly brought in to host some pretty dubious exhibits: the Kaiser Aluminum Hall of Fame (a giant tin telescope, a tin pig, and exhibits about the role of aluminum in American industry); a Dairy of the Future that featured models of cows with IVs in their hocks gazing at videos of pastures; the Dutch Boy Color Gallery (exploring the future through paint mixing). The crowning glory was a big-top tent housing the special-effects kraken from the film of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; it was staffed by a little person who hid inside it all day, making the tentacles wave.

There have been several attempts to remake Tomorrowland, of varying success. At one point, it became a focal point for insouciant Orange County goths, who congregated there every day after school, making good use of their annual passes. These days, Tomorrowland is thoroughly grounded in fiction from recently acquired franchises -- not futurism and the "factual world of tomorrow." There's a rather good Marvel Comics exhibit in the otherwise lacklustre Innoventions building, and lots of Star Wars-themed stuff to go with the revamped Star Tours ride (which is also rather good). No one seems to mind that a franchise set "a long, long time ago" is a dominant feature in Tomorrowland. Pixar is represented through a Buzz Lightyear ride/shooting gallery (where my wife regularly and thoroughly trounces me).

Finally, the prospectus makes a big deal out of the idea of a miniature walk-through land, "Lilliputian Land," where "mechanical people nine inches high sing and dance and talk to you." This is clearly inspired by Walt's experiences touring Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, and is the lineal ancestor of the Small World boats (created for Unicef's pavilion at the 1964 NYC World's Fair) and the Storybookland Boats. More to the point, it shows off how much Disneyland was really an elaborate plan by Walt to let extend the miniature train-set he'd build in his garden as therapy after his mental breakdown. The classic photo of Walt Disney hanging out of a train locomotive, grinning with pure, unfaked joy contain, for me, the real story of Disneyland: a man who struggled with depression and his relationship to the company he founded, restless with corporate culture and anxious to lose himself in play in a world of fantasy.

We are forever grateful to our anonymous source for this extraordinary document. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Disneyland Original Prospectus [archive.org]

A zip file of high-res TIFF files [4GB!] is also available.

Published 4:20 am Tue, May 20, 2014

About the Author

I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

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