Imagine if you could have your all-time favourite Disneyland or Walt Disney World attraction just a hop, skip, and jump away from you at all times. Even if it was nearby at your local museum, you could pop by and visit whenever you wished. Well, it takes a bit more than wished to make that dream come true and you’ll find why! This is the story of how The Smithsonian procured Dumbo!

Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.” In other words, we must continue to move forward and keep his beloved theme park from becoming a museum. However, you cannot ignore the ever-lasting impact that Disneyland has had on America’s collective culture. Heck, is there anything more American than Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A.? Fifteen years ago, in a grand celebration of Disneyland’s lasting influence, two fan-favourite attractions were acquired by the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of American History in Washing, D.C., which is part of the renowned Smithsonian Institution, recently revealed precisely how those attractions were chosen and how they were transported all the way across the United States from Anaheim, California, to Washington, D.C. You can find this insightful insider information and more through a blog post written by museum specialist Bethanee Bemis, humorously entitled, When Dumbo Came to D.C.

As Bemis discloses, the Smithsonian and The Walt Disney Company were in the midst of collaborating on some form of a donation from the park to commemorate its 50th anniversary (2005), when then-curators Dwight Bowers and Ellen Hughes travelled to the Disneyland Resort to meet with Disney’s team responsible for the golden 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 ascertain what most fittingly encapsulated the park in the American consciousness.

Someone in the group suggested a ride vehicle because of course the attractions and experiences are the heart of the park. The group promptly agreed to only consider those from the handful of attractions that had been around since the park’s 1955 opening. Naturally, this narrowed down the selection quite a bit. The Mark Twain Riverboat wouldn’t possibly fit in the museum. A carousel horse was considered but deserted because, once taken out of the context of the park it might be mistaken for just any carousel horse. It had to be attractions that no other park could possibly claim. Someone mentioned the Mad Tea Party teacups, and everyone immediately agreed that was practically perfect in every way. Nowhere else could boast a human-sized teacup!

Not long after, Bowers proposed a vehicle from one of his favourite attractions, Dumbo the Flying Elephant. As the committee zeroed in other their final decision, it became exceedingly clear that he had stumbled across a promising prospect, 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.”

And that is the story of how The Smithsonian procured Dumbo. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Well, not exactly. You see, once the giant teacup and elephant were decided as the appropriate attractions, they soon came across and much more difficult and laborious task; how to move them cross-country!

The vehicles were shipped to Washington, D.C., where they were then transferred onto a flatbed truck and given an official police escort to move them to the museum’s loading dock, which was designed with sizeable objects in mind.

Once they arrived, they were quickly yet carefully moved through the museum by staff and placed in a special limited-time display for the 50th anniversary.

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.”

The celebrating of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary at a national institution, such as the Smithsonian, makes an indelible acknowledgment of the massive role Walt’s park has played in American history. To this day, Dumbo continues to rank among the most popular items at the museum 15 years later.