Corporate History Done The Disney Way

Happy anniversary, Disneyland!

Disneyland debuted on July 18, 1955 when its gates opened to the public for the first time.

On the previous day, July 17, 1955, Disneyland debuted to a “By Invitation Only” crowd comprised of select guests, invited members of the press corps, and an ABC crew broadcasting a “Disneyland” television special.

One more thing.  Counterfeit admission tickets posed a serious problem.

They allowed the number to swell past 28,000, a figure astronomically higher than the projected amount for the exclusive guest list.

Counterfeit tickets. Temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Water fountains not working because of a plumbers strike. Ladies’ shoe heels sticking in cement that wasn’t quite dry. Broadcasting glitches that were common, but no less destructive, in the early days of television.

To say that things did not go exactly as planned would be like saying the Titanic took on a little water.

Disney folks bestowed a nickname upon July 17, 1955.  Black Sunday.

But Walt Disney took the liability and turned it into an asset. He created a second “By Invitation Only” day for the invitees to study the park unencumbered by crowds. Disney and his team smoothed out the wrinkles to make Disneyland a destination for southern Californians and tourists alike.

Disneyland’s birth is wonderfully explored in Neal Gabler’s exhaustive biography Walt Disney. With unyielding dedication, Gabler excavates Walt Disney’s life like Indiana Jones searched for the Lost Ark of the Covenant.  He makes the Walt Disney story come alive with excruciating detail, a necessary requisite for a historian, complete with Walt Disney’s accomplishments, innovations, and downfalls. Naturally, Gabler relied on resources within the Disney archives.

Disney’s archives team protects everything concerning Disney’s corporate history, from memoranda to memorabilia. Dave Smith was the first member of the team, serving as Disney’s Chief Archivist from 1970 to 2010. Smith and his team have a stellar reputation, earned through unparalleled commitment to the craft of archiving corporate history.

A corporation’s history is comprised of more than dates, names, and numbers – it’s the story behind them. Disney exemplifies the corporate history paradigm. Walt Disney and his team of creators, innovators, and animators built Disney corporate history. Dave Smith and his team of archivists protect Disney corporate history. And Neal Gabler wrote about Disney.  The man, the legend, and the corporate history.

Even if a corporation does not have the financial resources to hire a full-time archivist team or even a single full-time archivist or corporate historian, a consultant will be worth the investment.

I’ve worked for companies or consulted for clients where the most basic questions about corporate history are met with conflicting answers at best and confusion at worst. A freelance corporate historian can resolve ambiguities, clarify information, and add value by creating a relevant bibliography, building a corporate library, and researching high priority projects involving the corporate history

Do you have a corporate historian, either freelance or full-time?  Do you have a corporate history plan? Just make sure it’s not a Mickey Mouse operation. Oh wait, reverse that.

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