Disneyland in 1955 Film

Kennon-Green & Co. Fiduciary Financial Advisor, Wealth Management, Global Value Investing

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. 

[mainbodyad]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.