BACKSTORY (June 4, 1958—Present): Walt Disney decided that the Rivers of America needed more river traffic and wanted another large ship, so he asked Joe Fowler (Disneyland’s construction supervisor and a former naval admiral) to pick a historic sailing ship for inspiration. After examining every maritime museum in the country, Fowler recommended the first American sailing ship to go around the world: the Columbia Rediviva. However, there is only one known picture in existence of the original windjammer. WED researchers used it and research materials from the Library of Congress. Architect Ray Wallace was commissioned in 1957 to work with Fowler in creating the construction plans. The ship was constructed at Todd Shipyards in San Pedro, California, where the Mark Twain 's hull was built a few years earlier. After Fowler told Disney that it was customary to put a silver dollar under each mast before it was set, Disney personally put a silver dollar under each of the Columbia’s three masts.
According to the sometimes unreliable Wikipedia, the ship’s christening ceremony on June 4, 1958, had Joe Fowler dressed as a sailing captain of the 1700's while the Mousketeers appeared as his crew. Gretchen Richmond, wife of Alfred Carroll (A.C.) Richmond (Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard at the time), did the actual christening. Dan Simmons who was there that day recently emailed a correction:
“I was in the ‘Sea Scouts’ based out of Redondo Beach, CA. in June 1958 and we were the crew on the Columbia for its maiden voyage. We were dressed in striped shirts and white pants. Walt Disney and Art Linkletter were both on the ship. I don't remember any Mousketeers being present, though. We were given a free day at Disneyland for being the crew that day. I also remember climbing the ratlines as well as looking down and seeing Walt Disney and Art Linkletter on the deck. We were all really looking for Annette that day.”
Since then, the Sailing Ship Columbia has had many extensive refurbishments, but the only major change has been the 1964 addition of the crew quarters exhibit. Cast members have dubbed the Columbia “The Floating Skillet,” because of how hot it gets piloting the boat without any cover during the summer.