April 27, 2015

A Rare Color Video of Disneyland Opening in 1955

I happened to check the contact form this morning (we’re up to 1,000+ messages, some of which are really great questions or comments, that I do try to get to but my problem is time) and happened to see one from a few hours ago from a reader named Mark E.  This absolutely made my day and you should watch it.  It’s rare color footage of Disneyland in its opening year, 1955. 

This was almost 60 years ago.  It was an entirely different world; we are looking at a slice of life, a piece of history, for a group of people who lived under very different conditions than we do today.

To put it into perspective, almost everyone over the age of 20 in this video has passed away.  A 5 year old child in this film would now be drawing Social Security. 

As I watch the Disneyland footage, all I can think of is how different the world was back then.

When it was filmed, the typical home in the United States was around 983 square feet and cost $15,200.  The typical salary was $4,418. 

Crime rates – murder, robbery, theft, assault, gun deaths – were substantially higher than they are today.  (People just didn’t know it because there was not widespread media access.)

Modern medicine was a fraction of what it is today so the life expectancy for men was only 66.7 years old and for women 72.8 years old.  Heart attacks were treated with a glass of cold water and some aspirin.

Air conditioning was still a luxury of the rich.

There were many areas of the country that didn’t have running water or indoor toilets. 

There were “white only” restrooms, water fountains, and restaurants. 

If a white person and black person were to fall in love, they could expect total ostracization at best and lynching at worst.

Women couldn’t expect to have equality in the work force; if they did manage to climb the corporate ladder, they were paid substantially less and subjected to behavior that would destroy the careers of the perpetrators today. 

Jews couldn’t get hired by most major corporations or Wall Street institutions.  They were banned from country clubs and almost all white families would have disowned a child who married a Jew.

If it was discovered you were gay, you would be fired if you were lucky.  Just as likely, you would be reported to the police, convicted of the crime, and sent to prison along with murderers and rapists.  That was if the people who discovered it didn’t kill you first.

The typical person had several hours less in free time per week (it’s easy to forget how much widespread access to electric washing machines and dryers, dish washers, microwaves, induction stove tops, automated sprinkler systems, the Internet, and even television has changed time allocation; to find out the price of a stock today requires a few seconds online, rather than a minute calling your broker). 

Stock commissions were often several hundred dollars per trade as no discount brokerage firms existed.  That meant you’d spend the equivalent of thousands today for the right to buy or sell.  Almost no average American family owned stocks; they were for the rich and institutions only.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 442.72.  Take a moment to browse through the corporations that were in the S&P 500 that year.

College educations were almost unheard of for anyone other than the privileged elite.

The national debt was recovering from an all-time high, having exceeded a percentage of GDP larger than it is even today as a result of having to spend all of the nation’s economic power fighting Germany and Japan in World War II.

The thing that gets me, though, is that this institution – Disneyland – has managed to migrate all of these times.  It is so valuable to the culture, to individual people, and to the business that owns it, that it is one of the few things that is bigger than itself and, instead, represents an idea and an ideal.  It’s quintessential America.  It was an insane concept that the bankers thought would fail. Yet, here we are, and it’s bigger, better, and more profitable than ever.  It has managed to tap into the very soul of a people.  It is the perfect interaction of art, business, economics, and mental models from other disciplines such as psychology, all working to reinforce each other.  And I love that I own part of it.

  • FratMan

    So Pope Francis called on the rich to help eradicate inequality.

    To quote: “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world.”


    I’m curious: Do you think he’s correct? More specifically, should inequality be treated as a problem to solve?

    I’m not so sure the answer to that question is yes. Mark Zuckerberg just saw his paper worth increase $3-$4 billion in a day, and it is morally sound (in my eyes) because he has singlehandedly changed the daily lives of most Americans with Facebook. In my life, I have not accomplished 0.00000000000000000001% as much. So why shouldn’t there be a huge “inequality gap” between Zuckerberg and myself, given our vastly different contributions to society? He’s more productive than me (errr, I), so he should be able to have more claim checks on society than me (errr, I).

    Usually, the political tagline that emerges is “equality of opportunity.” Again, I’m not so sure that’s moral either. Take Zuckerberg and his billions. If he has five kids, he might want to get them the finest private tutors in the land. Since it’s his money, he can allocate it any way he so desires. I couldn’t afford that level of tutoring because I lack the economic resources–by what right should I be able to give my kids individualized tutoring if I can’t pay for the tutors? Therefore, it seems to me that equality of opportunity is just a feel-good bromide that doesn’t have much merit once you start to think about it.

    ….On the other hand, I have been coming around recently to the philosophy that wealth confers certain responsibility. Wealthy people have the power to crush others, and when you have the capacity to (legally) create significant misery or happiness for others, the need to be benevolent probably should increase alongside the increase in ability to influence the lives of others.

    Is the Pope right on this one?