If you’ve been to a Disney park in the last 20 years, odds are you’ve come across the seemingly endless amount of Disney pins that are sold, collected, and traded on a daily basis. Pin trading has become almost a staple of the Disney park experience. Today we’re going to explore the origins of Disney Pin trading, and to do that we have to go back over 120 years!
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Pin trading would naturally continue on to the 1998 Olympic games in Nagano, Japan, and that’s where members of Disney would take note of the lucrative and popular hobby. They were planning for a 15-month long Millennium celebration in Walt Disney World. They decided that bringing the custom over to their parks would be a fun way to create keepsakes, encourage guests from around the world to meet and interact with one another, and of course make some money.
Now Disney pins as a concept had already existed at this point. Like I said earlier, pins in general made for good souvenirs, and so Disney pins in one form or another could be found as far back as the 1950’s in Disneyland. They just weren’t especially popular or unpopular up until that point, and there certainly weren’t as many as there are today.
When the celebration began in October of 1999, the official pin trading stations were limited to 7 areas across the parks. The entire pin trading concept itself was meant to only run as long as the celebration, and was initially planned to end after 15 months. Merchandising spokesman Steven Miller said “We really had no idea whether people would be interested in this.”
Well spoiler alert: People were definitely interested in it. Just as it did at the Olympics over the previous 20 years, pin collecting and trading exploded at Disney World. It tapped into all the same psychological reasons that drive people to collect stamps and coins and anything else you can think of. People take pride in building a collection. They feel satisfaction of out obtaining a complete set. They socialize and experience a camaraderie with fellow collectors and traders. Take all of that, and add on decades and decades of characters that are beloved staples of modern media, and it’s really no surprise that it caught on like wildfire and still continues to this day.
More cast members were given pins for trading, and within the year the number of pin trading stations expanded from that initial 7 locations to over 30. On top of that, during the 15 month millennium celebration, Disney was introducing new pin designs every single day.
While they never officially disclosed any sales figures, Walt Disney World Director of Merchandise, Brand Management, and Special Events, Linda Conrad, went on the record to say that Disney pin sales “made up a substantial part of the millennium revenues.” So as you’d expect, Disney quickly decided to extend the program indefinitely and also went on to expand the merchandise to Disneyland and their other resorts.
Today the hobby is still going strong and there are over 100,000 Disney pin designs. They not only include pins that guests are able to purchase online and at the parks, but also limited edition pins, cast member pins, and event pins. There are countless websites dedicated to collecting, trading, and cataloging the pins. There are even meetups, not just at the Disney Parks, but across the globe, where collectors can show off their pins and trade with one another. Every day as many as 20,000 cast members at Disney World wear pins so that they could trade with guests. Today It would be impossible to go a full day at the Disney parks without coming across the pins. They are a fun and exciting aspect of a Disney vacation, and it all began with these little cardboard badges in 1896.