Have you ever wondered who was Disneyland’s first ever customer? Over 750 million people have experienced the magic of Disneyland since it opened in 1955. And someone was lucky enough to be Disneyland’s first ever customer, and the perk he receives every year from the park is every Disney lover’s fantasy.
The actualization of Walt Disney’s dream famously took one year and one day to accomplish. And on July 17, 1955, Disney sent out invitations to special guests, the press, and celebrities. The grand opening was an exclusive and televised event for select guests only. However, the public was too excited to wait for the public opening the next day. Counterfeit tickets were peddled and some climbed over the walls. And the traffic leading to the park was 11 miles long! The sudden influx doubled the expected number of guests during the grand ceremony. The chaos that ensued on July 17 has since been dubbed as “Black Sunday”.
But who was Disneyland’s first ever customer on its official public opening?
This distinction of being Disneyland’s first ever customer belongs to none other than Dave MacPherson. At the time, he was just a 22-year old student at Long Beach State College. The fanfare of Disneyland’s grand opening naturally piqued his interest. While he was watching the invitation-only festivities of the theme park on television, an idea struck him. He wanted to be the first “commoner” to enter the park! And so, he hatched his plan while watching the Disney’s family members and celebrities frolicking in the park. He traveled 10 miles on his motorbike to get to Anaheim, California after the television coverage ended.
“I decided I wanted to be the first in line. The first person to go into the park who wasn’t a relative of Walt’s or some celebrity. The first regular guy to go in through the front door.”
Dave arrived at Anaheim at around 2 o’clock in the morning on July 18, 1955. He headed straight to the nearest ticket booth and started what would be one of the epic queues in history. And when the ticket booth finally opened, he purchased the first-ever ticket to Disneyland.
It was definitely an incomparable experience.
“Being the first member of the public to buy a ticket at Disneyland on July 18 1955, and seeing the 6,000 people behind me in line when the gates opened, and seeing Walt Disney himself is something I will never forget!”
However, during its opening, Disneyland was still undergoing construction. Not all the rides were functional yet. Workers were still painting walls and planting trees. And because the plumbers had gone on strike, the water fountains didn’t work.
Unfortunately, Dave didn’t stick around to use the complimentary card that came along with his ticket because home was a long way away. But even though he missed the chance to try out the rides on the first day, he hasn’t missed the opportunity every year since.
Dave McPherson didn’t meet Walt Disney during that fateful day. But Walt Disney made sure to thank his very first guest in the way possible. As a gift for being Disneyland’s first ever customer, the park rewarded him with a lifetime pass.
Dave receives a pass that allows him and three others access to the park every year. “At the beginning, it was just a paper or cardboard pass. And for years, it was silver,” Dave said. And the most recent passes have taken on a credit card-like appearance that says ‘Main Entrance Pass’ in front and ‘Admit Passholder and 3 Guests’ at the reverse.
He goes to Disney every year with his wife and friends. And the staff all know who he is (sort of).
Dave and his wife Wanda now live in Kansas, but they still visit the Happiest Place on Earth every year. He’s also been able to forge a lifelong friendship with another fellow attendee of the park’s opening. Dave and Joe didn’t meet during in 1955 but their common interests eventually brought them together.
Whenever Dave goes to Disney, he has to present an ID to verify his identity. To further prove his claim as Disneyland’s first ever customer, he also shows photocopies of a page in his scrapbook containing the “first day” clippings.
“It isn’t unusual, after I give a copy of that scrapbook page to anyone manning the entrance gate, to have that official shout to the crowd “Folks, this man bought the first ticket to Disneyland when it opened in 1955.” You can’t believe how many folks from different parts of the world have then come over and asked for my autograph or shot a picture of my wife Wanda and myself!”
“You might say that 1955 was a very good year for a youthful Scotsman!” Dave exclaimed. We fully concur with Dave. His decision to travel 10 miles has certainly gotten him a long way!