On this day in 1958, Disneyland's ship Columbia was officially christened on the Rivers of America. Disneyland's construction supervisor Joe Fowler (a former naval admiral) took part in the christening by dressing up as a sailing captain of the 1700s. Even television's Mouseketeers joined in as his crew! (The attraction would open 10 days later to the public.)
The Columbia is a full-scale replica of the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. When constructed in 1958, it was the first three-masted windjammer to be built in the U.S. in more than 100 years. (A windjammer was a popular type of ship built to carry cargo.) Even the U.S. flag on the ship's stern is a version of a U.S. flag that would have been flown in the 1770s.
It was actually Joe Fowler who suggested to Walt Disney that the Disneyland ship be modeled after a real ship called the Columbia Rediviva. (Although it is often reported that due to a lack of detailed pictures and plans - the Columbia is actually based a bit on the HMS Bounty - another three-masted cargo ship.)
The real Columbia Rediviva (or Columbia) was a privately owned ship under Captain Robert Gray (a merchant ship captain from Rhode Island). Because the ship was privately owned, it did not carry the common prefix designation "USS." First built in 1773 in Massachusetts, she became the first ship in 1790 to circumnavigate the globe. In fact Captain Gray upon entering the Columbia River for the first time named the ship after the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. Gray was the first recorded European to navigate the Columbia River!
Although the ship was decommissioned and salvaged in 1806, Disneyland's Columbia continues to sail the Rivers of America (usually on the park's busiest days).
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