Disney History: The Nixon Years

Walt Disney's love of America and fascination with U.S. Presidents, particularly Abraham Lincoln, is well documented and if you've followed along with our history articles here at Walt Disney World for Grownups, you know that Nikita Khrushchev, but what about the American chief executives? Though he may seem like an unlikely candidate, President Richard Nixon has the strongest ties to Disney of any Oval Office occupant.

Richard Nixon Receives The Keys To DisneylandRichard Nixon Receives The Keys To Disneyland

As the only President to be born a native of Orange County, CA, it is natural that President Nixon would have crossed paths with the Walt Disney Company in many ways. The first was at the El Capitan Theater, which was purchased and restored by the Disney Company. On September 23, 1952, the El Capitan was the site of then Vice President Nixon's famous "Checkers" speech.

Richard Nixon and Walt Disney Open The MonorailRichard Nixon and Walt Disney Open The Monorail

Three year's later; Nixon would visit Disneyland for the first time on August 11, 1955. Fess Parker, more commonly known as Davy Crockett in those days, led the ceremony awarding the Key to Disneyland to Nixon. The entire family loved the new park, especially Autopia, and would visit often over the next few decades. After forging a friendship with Walt Disney, Vice President Nixon spoke at the dedication of the first operational monorail in America and his daughters Julie and Patricia "cut" the ribbon. After the ceremony, Walt invited the Nixon family to join him for lunch in his private apartment over the Main St. fire station. Nixon's Disneyland connections don't end there. He hosted a fundraiser at Disneyland Hotel and his Press Secretary Ron Zeigler worked his way through college as a Jungle Cruise skipper.

Richard Nixon Takes A Ride On Peter PanRichard Nixon Takes A Ride On Peter Pan

Just as Disneyland had opened during Nixon's Vice Presidency, Walt Disney World opened during his Presidency. That means that Richard Nixon was the first sitting President to be featured in the Hall of Presidents. Though he was from Orange County, CA, Richard Nixon also had a home in Key Biscayne, FL and it was from that base that he traveled to Walt Disney World to host a press conference at the Contemporary Resort in an effort to do damage control as the Watergate scandal broke. Before an Associate Press audience of more than 400 reporters, Nixon stood in the Ballroom of the Americas on the second floor of the Contemporary Convention Center and informed America that he was not a crook.

Although his public persona was never one that you would associate with the carefree, magical world of Disney, thanks to the timing of his political career, geographic proximity to the parks, and personal friendship with Walt Disney, Richard Nixon was indeed a Disney fan, even expressing the sentiment that Disney was great for kids, but it was great for adults, too!

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her knowledge of Disney History with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's Disney Adventures, you can find her sharing on our member forum.

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