Walt convinced the best of corporate America to help fund Disneyland
Disneyland was more than just a new idea for an amusement park. It was a unique project that required a one-of-a-kind business plan.Walt Disney was so serious about his idea for Disneyland that he put his own money into the project. He borrowed against his life insurance and sold his Palm Springs house to get it off the ground. He formed a separate company from his film business dedicated to the creation of Disneyland. The groundbreaking idea to use television and sponsors came from Walt, whose brother Roy was key in getting the specific deals in place. This innovative way of financing a park was a hard sell, though. Walt’s doubters felt he was stepping outside his field when he decided to build Disneyland. He was an established filmmaker, but he had no track record for building amusement parks. “A lot of people thought Walt was way off the mark with his idea for a park,” says Gordon Lindon, and architect and theme park expert. That’s where TV and sponsors came in. Roy agreed to go to New York to seek a TV contract to help promote and finance Disneyland. He had but one request for Walt: He wanted something to demonstrate what Disneyland would be like. The catch? Walt had just one weekend to produce the concept drawings. Walt enlisted the help of Herb Ryman, who had worked for him in the art department in the 1940s. Ryman at first thought Walt was asking for the impossible. But Walt’s charisma and superb communication skills convinced Ryman to give it a try. Walt stayed with him the entire weekend. Roy used the drawings to strike a deal with ABC. Walt would provide a one-hour weekly show and give ABC a one-third ownership stake in the park. ABC would invest half a million dollars in cash and guarantee $4.5 million in loans. The loans kicked in dollar for dollar when Walt secured sponsorship from companies. Walt managed to convince the best of corporate America to come on board and help fund Disneyland. He told them their products and services would not only be available for consumption at the park but would also become synonymous with the immersive entertainment he would offer through his rides and attractions. “Even if it was difficult to round up money for Disneyland, Walt went around and knocked on doors until he got enough big names to sponsor his park,” Lindon says. As a result, much-needed funds came from Carnation, Swift, Frito-Lay, Pendleton, Gibson Greeting Cards, Bank of America, Eastman Kodak, TWA, Richfield Oil, Kaiser Aluminum, Monsanto, Pepsi, Chicken of the Sea, National Lead (Dutch Boy Paint), American Dairy Assn., Crane Plumbing, and Hills Brothers Coffee, among others. Recently, Disneyland and Honda closed a multipronged deal involving Honda vehicles and other high-tech innovations, while companies like Kodak and Carnation are still in the park. And original sponsor ABC? It’s now a sibling of the park under the Disney corporate umbrella.