Van Arsdale France was hired in March of 1955 to train Disneyland’s first employees. France ultimately set the foundation for a culture of service that would set a new bar throughout the amusement park industry and beyond. In recognition for his landmark achievements, France was named a Disney Legend in 1994.
Walt Disney’s high expectations for Disneyland extended to the park’s workers from the very beginning. He said “You can dream of, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it still takes people to operate it.” Walt knew Disneyland had to separate itself from the carnival-like amusement parks and pier-side fun centers. One of the fundamental ways to achieve that goal was to set an entirely new level of service. In fact, to ensure their employees were different Disneyland initially would not hire anyone who previously worked at an amusement park or a circus.
Van France was hired by C.V. Wood, Disneyland’s first general manager, whom he previously worked with in the aerospace industry. France took his industrial relations background and Walt’s direction to establish the University of Disneyland training program. Later, the program would be renamed The Disney University. While working out of an old house left on the property where the Disneyland Hotel now sits, France developed training manuals that included themes like “You’re an Ambassador of Happiness” and “You’re Here Because You Care.”
To establish a setting where visitors knew they were being welcomed to an experience rather than a transaction, France established a standard where they would be referred to as guests rather than customers. Employees would initially be called Disneylanders, though that would soon be changed to hosts and cast members. Uniforms were called costumes, rides called attractions, lines called queues, and public areas referred to as being onstage. Well trained and smiling cast members have become a part of the Disneyland legacy and many of the terms France implemented are part of the lexicon of both Disney fans and the modern corporate world.