They Don’t Get It

Few people Walt Disney tapped to help him build Disneyland had any actual amusement park experience. At some point, the Disney team knew it needed to bounce its ideas off people who owned and operated parks. That opportunity presented itself at the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches annual trade show at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago between Nov. 29th – Dec. 2nd in 1953. 

In his memoir, “Walt’s Revolution!” Harrison “Buzz” Price details the trip to Chicago. After completing a study that helped Walt find a location for Disneyland, Buzz was working on a study on the economics of operating a theme park at the time of the trade show. According to Buzz, “the highlight of our feasibility analysis took place at the [trade show].”

Walt Disney and Harrison “Buzz” Price

Original Disneyland planners Dick Irvine, Nat Winecoff, and Bill Cottrell joined Buzz on the trip. In a scene out of Mad Men, they stocked up a Sherman hotel suite with caviar and Chivas Regal and invited some of the nation’s leading amusement park owners. The group included William Schmitt from River View Park in Chicago, Harry Batt from Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans, Ed Schott from Coney Island in Cincinnati, and George Whitney from Playland in San Francisco. 

From Left to Right: Dick Irvine, C. V. Wood, Jr., Walt Disney, Nat Winecoff, Bill Cottrell

Armed with Herb Ryman’s concept art, the four Disney employees gave the industry leaders an overview of the project. According to Buzz, “The reaction was unanimous. It would not work.” The critiques included:

  • Disneyland lacked all the proven moneymakers like rollercoasters, Ferris wheels, beer stands, and carnival games
  • Custom rides will be too expensive and break down too much
  • Too many things don’t generate money, like the castle, pirate ship, etc.
  • Landscaping is a waste of money
  • Having only one entrance will create a bottleneck
  • Design details and high quality finishes will lose money and people will destroy them
  • Demanding cleanliness will cost too much and customers won’t care

In the end they concluded, “Tell your boss to save his money. Tell him to stick to what he knows and leave the amusement business to people who know it.”

When Buzz and the others shared the ominous input with Walt, he brushed it off and prophetically exclaimed, “They don’t get it.”

Despite the negative impressions, Walt would ultimately retain two of the leaders, Ed Schott and George Whitney, as consultants. 

Design

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