Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#Disneyland60.....Today In Disneyland History......August 20, 1928

First Female Disney Imagineer Harriet Tapp Is Born
                                       August 20, 1928

August 20, 1928, Harriet Burns, then Harriet Tapp, who later married and became Harriet Burns, was born in San Antonio, Texas.  The name may not sound familiar immediately but I guarantee that you know her work for this Disney Imagineer Burns was the first woman ever hired by Walt Disney Imagineering in a creative rather than an office capacity. She began working at Disney Studios in 1955 as a prop and set painter for the Mickey Mouse Club. Later on it was Harriet Burns that helped to create Sleeping Beauty Castle, New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean, and many other theme park and along with many of the 1964-1965
 World's Fair attractions.   Burns may have worked shoulder to shoulder with men in the model shop, wielding saws, lathes, and sanders, she was still the best-dressed employee in the department.

Photo Credit Disney Enterprises Inc. 

“It was the 1950s,” she later explained. “I wore color-coordinated dresses, high heels, and gloves to work. Girls didn’t wear slacks back then, although I carried a pair in a little sack, just in case I had to climb into high places.”  Harriet’s career started after she received her bachelor’s degree in art from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She went on to study advanced design for another year at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

In 1953, she moved to Los Angeles with her husband and small daughter. There, she accepted a part-time position at Dice Display Industries Cooperative Exchange, where she helped design and produce props for television’s Colgate Comedy Hour along with interiors and sets for Las Vegas hotels, including the Dunes. Adept at her work, she was asked to spearhead the creation of the fanciful Southern California tourist destination Santa’s Village, located near Lake Arrowhead.
When Dice went out of business in 1955, a co-employee who had once worked at Disney beat tracks back to the Studio and invited Harriet to come along. She was subsequently hired to paint sets and props for the new Mickey Mouse Club television show. Harriet soon began coordinating the show’s color styling and even designed and built the famous “Mouse Clubhouse.”

She later joined Walt Disney Imagineering, formerly called WED Enterprises, where she helped create Sleeping Beauty CastleNew Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion, and more. She also helped construct Storybook Land, which features miniature villages inspired by Disney animated movies such as Pinocchio, and designed all of the “singing birds” in the Enchanted Tiki Room, the first Audi- Animatronics® attraction at Disneyland.
Harriet worked on everything from figure finishing to stage design for attractions featured at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, including Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Carousel of Progress. On occasion, when Walt would introduce new theme park attractions to television audiences, she would appear on segments of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.
After retirement, Harriet remained an active member of the arts and music community in Santa Barbara, California.

 Sadly Harriet Burns passed away on July 25, 2008, in Los Angeles, California but her legacy will live on in the Happiest Place on Earth throughout the generations to come.  And that’s what happened today in Disneyland’s history.  


  1. Gayle, I love a bit of Disney history, it was such an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Ellen! Can't you just imagine her paving the way for the others who would follow!