Disneyland: Squeaky-clean, candy-colored, happiest place on earth turns 57

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A new kind of theme park put Anaheim on the map 57 years ago this week. Three months after Jonas Salk's vaccine removed the domestic threat of polio — and parents' related fear of exposing their children to large crowds — a mid-century entertainment mogul welcomed throngs to what he called “the happiest place on Earth.”

Before Disneyland opened, amusement parks were stay-put versions of traveling carnivals, strewn with roller coasters and Ferris wheels, freak shows and games of chance.

Not even 20 years after Walt Disney defied skeptics and scored a hit with the first feature-length animated movie (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”), he changed the way Americans thought about theme parks. Disneyland was a squeaky-clean, candy-colored family entertainment venue. It evoked sanitized nostalgia for times gone by, with Frontierland and Tom Sawyer’s Island, and offered a glimpse at a streamlined future with the Monorail and Tomorrowland.

Californians of a certain age associate the term "E ticket" not with online flight bookings, but with the coolest rides at the Disneyland of their youth.

Over the years the number of attractions has grown from the original 20, and crowds have grown much bigger than the opening day’s 33,000. But the Disneyland model helped launch an international theme park industry – and helped Orange County gain stature as an international travel destination.

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