Sunday, 7 December 2014

Disaster Narrowly Averted at Disneyland

"The difference between winning and losing is most often...not quitting." (Walt Disney)

Disneyland's opening day, July 17, 1955, was anything but smooth:  the park swelled with at least twice the number of guests who were invited; there was a shortage of food; the water fountains didn't work on a 100-plus Fahrenheit day; ladies' high heels got stuck in the freshly poured asphalt on Main Street; the overloaded Mark Twain Steamboat almost capsized; and a seven mile traffic jam clogged the road leading in and out of the park (read my post "Heat, Hunger & High Heels" at  

To top it all off, the fiasco was witnessed by celebrities like Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, and Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra, as well as newspaper reporters.  Journalists returned to their desks and rattled off reviews on their typewriters about the opening day disaster at Disneyland.  Not to be deterred, Walt Disney set to work doing damage control.  First, he was visible on a daily basis in the park ironing out the kinks.  He ordered workers to smooth out the asphalt.  He set a limit of 300 passengers on board the steamboat.  He called the plumbers to get the fountains in operation. He made sure the restaurant and snack bar managers ordered enough food.  He found a way around the use of counterfeit tickets at the gate.  

And, last but not least, once the mistakes were corrected, he formally invited the local newspaper reporters back to Disneyland.  They dined at the Plantation Inn and Red Wagon Inn and were treated to rides on the major attractions.  When the reporters returned to their desks the next morning, they typed out overwhelmingly favourable reviews.  The results showed at the ticket wicket:  by the end of the summer one million guests had visited Disneyland.  

Just like the little boy who woke up everyday for six years at 4:30 am to deliver newspapers in Kansas City, Walt Disney never gave up.  Out of every adversity, he made an opportunity.  

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