Of all the highways and roads dotted throughout our country, Main Street USA in the Magical Kingdoms of Disneyland and Walt Disney World is perhaps the most photographed.
They can also be the busiest.
From the early morning rope jump to the afternoon parade to the evening fireworks display, the street is almost always packed with park guests.
When the park opens each day, people entering can usually be seen walking down the street, bound for their favorite attraction or show.
At night, these same guests most often drag their feet toward the exit, exhausted from a day of fun and enchantment.
Main Street USA at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is a throwback to a midwestern town from the early years of the 20th century.
Even the modes of transport seen on the street, such as horseless carriages, horse-drawn trams and British-style omnibuses, reflect this bygone era.
Main Street is also where guests gather for entertainment, especially if shopping is your definition of entertainment.
The afternoon parade has been a staple almost since the day Disneyland  and WDW  open. And in the evening, fireworks – and, more recently, castle projection shows – have delighted guests standing side by side along the famous thoroughfare.
Our latest collection of vintage Disney photos spotlights Main Street USA
SIMILAR PHOTOS OF MAIN STREET, TAKEN 15 YEARS APART
If nothing else, these two photos illustrate how little Main Street USA at Walt Disney World has changed over the years.
The photo on the left was taken in 1983. A horse-drawn tram, which runs on rails, heads towards Town Square. The trolley has a distinctive sign on the front that reads “Main Street Transportation Co.”
The magnificent Cinderella Castle looms in the distance.
By today’s standards, the street in the 1983 photo appears almost empty. Although trees block the view from most storefronts, a sign for the Market House, sponsored by Smuckers and Dixie Crystals, can be seen to the right. To the left, a stylized trash can can be seen.
In the photo on the right, taken in 1998 from a similar location, the number of guests has increased, but a similar horse-drawn tram is coming down the street.
The Market House sign is still visible on the right, as is the trash can on the left.
And Cinderella’s Castle looks bigger and more dramatic when displayed in vibrant colors.
MAIN STREET OF DISNEYLAND UNDER CONSTRUCTION
For decades, the site that became known as Disneyland consisted of acres and acres of orange groves.
After the Walt Disney Company purchased the land in the early 1950s, these orange trees were removed and the world’s first theme park began to take shape.
In the photo above, taken a few weeks before opening day on July 17, 1955, workers are laying the tracks for the horse-drawn tram.
In the distance is Town Square and the Disneyland train station. Trees have been planted and lampposts are affixed to the sidewalks on each side of the street.
On the left, the name Swift appears on the branding of a window display. In Disneyland’s early—and notoriously cash-strapped—days, outside companies [Swift, Carnation, Eastman Kodak and Upjohn among them] rented space along Main Street, which proved to be a profitable move for all parties involved.
Main Street USA was designed by Wade B. Rubottom, art director of several major Hollywood films.
His work was critical to the success of the park, as Main Street was the first place visitors would see. Like the opening sequence of a movie, Main Street would set the stage for the rest of the “show” to come.
This had to be fair. And, judging by the hordes of people streaming onto the streets in California and Florida every day, they got it right.
CELEBRATING 45 YEARS OF MAGIC AT DISNEYLAND
Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and more than 45 other stars from Disney’s Animated Movies played leading roles in the ’45 Years of Magic…Parade of Stars’ afternoon celebration on Main Street USA at Disneyland .
The occasion was Disneyland’s 45e anniversary in the year 2000.
Dominating the procession of likeable Disney characters was a trio of glittering gold leaf giraffe sculptures, inspired by the animated feature The Lion King.
The colorful parade was performed daily throughout 2000 as part of the one-year anniversary celebration.
Disneyland’s first major anniversary celebration was in 1965…its 10th year of operation.
Disney legend and marketing genius Jack Lindquist coined the term Tencennial for the occasion, along with several celebration-related promotions.
Indeed, anniversaries have become a big part of Disney Parks marketing discourse over the years, the most recent of which is the current 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World.e birthday party.
WHO HAS NOT BEEN CRAZY ABOUT MICKEY MANIA?
The year was 1994.
The place: Main Street USA at Walt Disney World.
The opportunity? Mickey Mania, of course!
Mickey Mouse’s oversized clothes were part of the Mickey Mania afternoon parade craze held daily at the Magic Kingdom.
Thousands of mouse-related items were featured in the parade, which featured everything Mickey… right down to giant walking versions of his hat, gloves and shoes.
The large-scale production included punching bags, puppets, bouncing balls, oversized clocks and, as you’d expect, a full lineup of Disney characters.
Included in the parade were bikers jumping off ramps on their float, performing tricky stunts; a balloon-themed float with Goofy and Max; and, of course, Minnie – dressed as a 1980s rap star – also had her own transport.
The final float, fittingly, featured the Big Cheese himself.
No wonder the sidewalks along Main Street were filled with cheering fans during Mickey’s special parade.
MAIN STREET ELECTRIC PARADE COMES TO WDW
The first Main Street Electrical Parade debuted at Disneyland in 1972 and delighted more than 75 million guests during its original 24-year run at the Happiest Place on Earth.
After a three-year hiatus, the enchanting parade found a new home at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, beginning in 1999.
The parade was called “part of the most explosive entertainment expansion year ever at the Vacation Kingdom”.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Main Street Electrical Parade has its roots in the Electrical Water Pageant, which began a few weeks after Walt Disney World opened in 1971 on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon.
A conga line of music-thumping pontoon boats, all displaying twinkling lights in a variety of nautical-themed shapes attached to aluminum cages, made their way from the Magic Kingdom dock area to the waters near the Polynesian Resort. , across the water deck, then to the shores of the Contemporary Resort, offering guests a “goodnight kiss” as they left the park.
The Electrical Water Pageant was a big hit, so much so that the powers that be at Disneyland got a little… shall we say, jealous. They wanted their own “goodnight kiss”, but since there are no large bodies of water in Disneyland, they had to come up with something else.
This is the impetus that gave us the Main Street Electrical Parade.
FANTASY IN THE SKY FIREWORKS… OVER THE SEVEN SEAS LAGOON?
I must admit that this advertising photo leaves me perplexed.
Yes, a large crowd is gathered on Main Street USA at Walt Disney World. And, yes, fireworks light up the night at the Fantasy in the Sky exhibit. The year is 1983.
But why is everyone facing the train station, and not Cinderella’s castle?
Fantasy in the Sky debuted at Disneyland in 1958 because Walt Disney wanted to entertain his guests late into the night. And, coupled with the Main Street Electrical Parade, the plan worked.
The pyrotechnic exhibit was salvaged from Walt Disney World after it opened in 1971 and ran there until 2003.
Oddly enough, the early years Fantasy in the Sky show only aired during peak times, such as holidays and the summer season. And the show only happened once a night – at 10 p.m.
But the question remains: why were visitors to the park facing the station in 1983? If anyone knows the answer, please let us know.
REMEMBERING THE MAGIC… AND THE CHÂTEAU’S PINK CAKE
In 1996, Walt Disney World celebrated its 25th anniversary. As far as over-the-top celebrations go, this one took the cake. Literally.
As part of its “Remember the Magic” theme, Cinderella’s castle was transformed into a giant birthday cake. Its majestic spiers became candles… the clock in front of the castle was covered with the numbers 2 and 5.
Giant “gumballs” and blue “frostings” accented the rest of the castle not covered in garish pink paint.
Some park visitors loved it. Most hated it…especially the couples who had booked their weddings at the new wedding pavilion across the Seven Seas Lagoon with the intention of having the traditional castle as a backdrop for photos.
The photo above was taken on October 1, 1996, during official rededication ceremonies along Main Street at the Magic Kingdom.
Dozens of Disney Characters dance to thundering music provided by the Florida A&M University Marching Band.
The festivities kicked off a 15-month celebration that honored former WDW guests and asked them to “remember the magic” of those previous visits.
But all most guests remember from this time in Disney history is the pink castle cake.
Chuck Schmidt is an award-winning journalist who has covered all things Disney since 1984, both in print and online. He is the author or co-author of seven Disney books, including his latest, The rhythm continues, for Theme Park Press. He also wrote a regular blog for AllEars.Net, called Always crazy about Disney, since 2015.