National Museum of American History Shares How The Smithsonian Acquired Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Mad Tea Party Ride Vehicles from Disneyland

For 65 years, Disneyland has been a part of America’s culture and history. That status was officially sealed fifteen years ago when ride vehicles from two beloved attractions were acquired by the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The museum, part of the famed Smithsonian Institution, recently shared how those attractions were chosen and how they moved across the United States from Anaheim to the nation’s capital in a blog post from museum specialist Bethanee Bemis.

According to Bemis, the Smithsonian and The Walt Disney Company were collaborating on some kind of donation from the park to mark its 50th anniversary in 2005. Then-curators Dwight Bowers and Ellen Hughes traveled to the Disneyland Resort to meet with Disney’s team in charge of the anniversary festivities. Tim O’Day, who was in charge of Disney’s creative publicity department for the celebration, recalled that he, Bowers, and Hughes “scoured every inch of Disneyland for several days” to determine what best defined the park in the American consciousness.

One member of the group proposed that a ride vehicle would be the best representation. The trio quickly decided that to best mark 50 years, they would only consider attractions from Disneyland’s opening day on July 17th, 1955. Apparently, a horse from King Arthur Carrousel was considered, but was ultimately rejected over concerns that once removed from the attraction, it could be mistaken for a horse from any carousel.

mad tea party

They continued their search for something “Disneyland enough,” and decided on a teacup from the Mad Tea Party for its unique design. Not long after, Bowers proposed a vehicle from Dumbo the Flying Elephant, an attraction he was fond of. As they made their final decision, it became clear that he had hit on a strong idea, as O’Day described: “We sat and watched people get on Dumbo. And we watched people watch Dumbo. And everybody was smiling. And as we sat there, we kind of looked at each other and went yep, this is it.”

Once the teacup and elephant were decided on, then came the more difficult task on how to move them cross-country. The vehicles were shipped to Washington, D.C., where they were then moved onto a flatbed truck and given a police escort to move them to the museum’s loading dock, which was designed with large objects in mind.

They were then moved carefully through the museum by staff and placed in a special limited-time display for the 50th anniversary, where the donation was made official on June 8th, 2005. Then-Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner spoke at the ceremony about the donation:

“From Main Street U.S.A. to the futuristic vision of Tomorrowland, Disneyland has always incorporated the cultural fabric of America and these two items—Dumbo and the Tea Cup—have become incredibly familiar in the lexicon of popular culture…During the park’s 50th anniversary, it seemed a perfect time for Disneyland to officially join hands across the continent with the Smithsonian and bring these two great American institutions together.”

Just like Disneyland was inspired by America’s history, it seems America has been shaped by Disneyland.