Who was the first person to ever buy a ticket to a Disney park? Since the first Disney park, Disneyland, opened in Anaheim, California in the 1950s, it may seem as if the answer to that question is lost to time. But, it’s not. In fact, it is a well-known part of Disney lore as to who purchased that incredible first admission ticket. It was a twenty-two-year-old man named Dave MacPherson, who simply decided one day that he would be the first person to buy a ticket to the park.
Not only was he the first person to buy an admission ticket to a Disney park, and thus remembered by history for that extraordinary feat, he was also awarded a lifetime pass to all Disney parks because of it. The enterprising Dave actually used it, too, all the way up until he passed away in 2018.
Dave MacPherson was a student at Long Beach State College when he earned his place in the lore of Disney history. Dave knew that the brand new Disneyland had been opened to a few special guests after seeing the opening celebration on TV on July 17, 1955. On that day, the park was opened primarily to celebrities, and friends and family of the Disney clan, with a few other special categories of guests being invited. The park was to be opened to the general public for the first time the next day.
After seeing all the special guests enjoying themselves at the park on TV, Dave decided that he would be the first member of the general public to step into the park and enjoy the Disney magic. In his own words, Dave wanted to be “the first regular guy to go in through the front door.”
In order to achieve this, Dave got on his motorcycle and rode for ten miles from Long Beach to Anaheim. Upon arriving, Dave quickly found a ticket booth to the park and got in line at 2 a.m. By the time the sun rose and the park was ready to open, there were six thousand people in line. But, Dave was the first. He paid one dollar for his admission ticket.
He lost his original admission ticket sometime after his historic day at the park. But, he received a new admission ticket in the mail every January for the rest of his life. Each annual ticket he received was good for unlimited admittance to any Disney park for the rest of that year. The annual tickets started out being made of paper or cardboard, then came printed on silver paper. In more recent times, they were made of plastic like a credit card and said “VIP MAIN ENTRANCE PASS” on the front.
Dave was determined that he be the first person in line. He said in interviews later in his life that he wasn’t sure what made him decide to be the first. However, that was his primary and ONLY goal. He said that if anyone else had been in line to get into the park when he arrived at the ticket booth that night, he would have just gone home.
In fact, Dave did not even ride any rides on his first day at the park. In the early days of the Disney parks, a guest had to buy an admission ticket, and then buy individual tickets to the various rides and shows on offer there once inside the park. Because he was a student and needed to get back to school, Dave left the park not long after making his historic entrance. Since it was summer in California, it was also too hot for him to be waiting in lines for attractions. There were actually people passing out from the heat in the parking lot that day, before actually getting into the park. It just wasn’t worth it to him to stay. Actually riding the rides and enjoying the attractions would come later for him.
Because he went quickly into the park, and then left again almost just as quickly, he did not get to meet Walt Disney, as he otherwise might have, as the purchaser of the first admission ticket. Instead, Walt Disney posed for photos for the media with the first two children to enter the park that day. Dave still got his picture in the paper, as a photographer snapped his photo as he purchased his ticket.
Dave did not even know that he had won the lifetime Disney park pass until after his visit that first day. He didn’t remember how long after that he found out about the award, but it was soon. The pass was good for himself and three guests, to be used at any Disney park (once there was more than one), whenever they wanted to go. There was no limit on the number of times a year it could be used for admission to a Disney park. Dave eventually used his pass not only at the California park, but at the Florida and France parks, as well.
In an interview, Dave said that his favorite ride or attraction at any park was the Enchanted Tiki Room, with the Haunted Mansion being a close second.
After his historic contribution to the Disney empire, Dave went on to graduate from college and become a humor columnist for the San Juan County newspaper in Utah and lived in a cabin in the Utah town of Monticello. Though he used his pass almost every year to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, California, he himself was eager to move away from the state he called “Quakafornia,” because of all the earthquakes they have there.
Of his place in Disney history, Dave had this to say:
“Since I wasn’t Walt’s relative or a special guest or party crasher on the 17th, or a youngster on the 18th, I had only one option,” MacPherson said. “Employing the hard work and initiative that Walt had admired in persons like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, I focused on being first in line on the 18th.”
That determination paid off well for him.