Building a small world

Despite initial skepticism, Walt Disney believed in his vision for a children’s amusement park that would bring to life the magic and imagination of his cartoons and films. So did Bank of America, which financed the construction of Disneyland in Anaheim, California in the early 1950s.

On Feb. 4, 1938, the world's first feature-length animated movie hit theaters. Financed by Bank of America, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs broke records for ticket sales and thrilled film critics who had never seen the likes of its artistry. This began a relationship between Disney and Bank of America that evolved into the financing of other animated films, including Bambi, Cinderella, Dumbo, Fantasia, Peter Pan, Pinocchio and Tres Caballeros. In the decades to follow, Bank of America also financed the construction of Disneyland and, later, Disney World.

Walt Disney's vision of an amusement park for children that would embody the magic and imagination of his cartoons and films was initially met with discouragement. Among the skeptics in his company was his brother, Roy, who thought that a "fanciful, expensive amusement park would lead to financial ruin." But Walt was confident of his vision, and so was Bank of America. The construction of Disneyland began in Anaheim, California in the early 1950s.

Construction of Disneyland began on July 16, 1954. Crews worked around the clock to meet the demanding deadline for completion of the park. Walt visited the site several times a week to check on the progress. As weeks and months passed, the materialization of tropical jungles, a rustic frontier fort, Tomorrowland, Main Street USA and a charming, ornate castle took shape among what was once 160 acres of orange groves.

After one full year of construction and a total investment of $17 million, the gates of Disneyland opened for guests on Sunday, July 17, 1955. Inside the park, located on Main Street stood a fully functioning Bank of America branch. Bank associates dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing and even offered money orders printed only for the Disneyland branch. 

When the park's iconic ride, It’s a Small World, was rebuilt in 1966, Bank of America sponsored it. The ride had been a huge success at the New York World’s Fair. The bank's sponsorship promoted America's first modern credit card, BankAmericard. It was the first credit card to be accepted at the Magic Kingdom.

In the decades that followed, Bank of America also financed the construction of Walt Disney World in Florida, which opened in 1971. 

In 1963, Disney set out to find a site for a new Disney amusement park that would give him the room he needed to create multiple theme parks, hotels, restaurants and more.

While flying across Florida one day, Walt looked down on the undeveloped swamp lands and cattle pastures around Orlando and saw the location for his new park. Disney started by acquiring as much land as possible discreetly. By the time Disney announced the project on November 15, 1965, the company owned 43 square miles of land. Within days of the announcement, land values for property surrounding the Disney site shot up from $180 per acre to as much as $80,000 per acre.

In 1986, Disney was growing internationally. Bank of America's capital markets group played a leading role in arranging a 10 billion yen transaction for the Walt Disney Company to expand operations in Japan, just three years after it opened in 1983.

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