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The history of the nation’s first theme park is the story of a family which has, for seven decades, dedicated itself to providing millions of guests with good, old-fashioned family fun.

Evansville, Ind., industrialist Louis J. Koch created the world’s first theme park as a retirement project. He was troubled that the tiny hamlet of Santa Claus, Ind., was visited by children who were disappointed when they discovered Santa was not there. With nine children of his own, Koch loved children, holidays and celebrations.
The original Santa Claus statue at Santa Claus Land in the late 1940s.

Santa Claus Land opened August 3, 1946; the theme park included a toy shop, toy displays, a restaurant, themed children’s rides, and, of course, Santa. Koch’s son Bill soon became the head of Santa Claus Land. In 1960, Bill married “Santa’s daughter,” Patricia Yellig; he remained active in the family business until his death in 2001. Bill and Pat had five children; the eldest, Will, was the park’s president for more than 20 years until his unexpected death in 2010. His brother Dan was president through 2012. Long-time employee Matt Eckert is now president.

Over the decades, Santa Claus Land flourished. Children from across the country came to sit on the real Santa’s knee and whisper their Christmas wishes. Guests included Ronald Reagan, who stopped by in 1955.

As the park grew, the Koch family knew Christmas was not the only theming possibility for the park. In 1984, Santa Claus Land expanded to also include Halloween and 4th of July sections, and the park’s name was changed to Holiday World.

In 1993, Splashin’ Safari Water Park was added; it now covers nearly 40 acres and features three water coasters and two wave pools, a river, family raft rides and water slides, plus several interactive family-waterplay complexes. The park, which was named the nation’s #1 Water Park by USA Today, also offers free sunscreen.

Holiday World introduced The Raven wooden roller coaster in 1995; it has been voted one of the world’s top wooden coasters each year since, as has The Legend wooden roller coaster, added in 2000. That year, Holiday World became the first park in the world to provide free, unlimited soft drinks.

In 2004, the highly-coveted international Applause Award which honors “foresight, originality and creativity, plus sound business development and profitability,” was presented to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, the smallest park ever to receive the award.

A train crests the first hill of The Voyage at Holiday World.

In 2006, the park introduced a new holiday. The Thanksgiving section included a recording-breaking new wooden coaster, The Voyage, which helped catapult the park’s seasonal attendance past the one-million mark for the first time. In 2013, TIME magazine named The Voyage the nation’s best wooden roller coaster; the parks, which now cover 125 acres, have been repeatedly named the World’s Friendliest and Cleanest. In 2007 and again in 2012, Consumers Digest named Holiday World the nation’s “Top Value Park.”

In 2010, the park’s first water coaster, Wildebeest, opened; it was voted the #1 Water Park Ride in the World every year through 2022. In 2012, Mammoth, the World’s Longest Water Coaster, opened. It was named the #1 Water Park Ride in the World in 2023. Cheetah Chase, the World’s first Launched Water Coaster, opened in 2020 and won the title of #1 New Water Park Ride in the Golden Ticket Awards.
Thunderbird Wing Coaster upside down at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.

America’s first launched wing roller coaster – Thunderbird – premiered in 2015.

In 2021, the park celebrated its 75th birthday.

Throughout its existence, Holiday World has set high standards for the theme park industry, with a steadfast adherence to the values established in the company’s cornerstones: safety, service, cleanliness, and friendliness.

Updated 3/15/23

About Santa Claus, Indiana

photo of welcome to santa claus indiana sign

  • We’re centrally located in the heartland (three hours from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Nashville)
  • We’re family-oriented, with historic sites, a theme and water park, museums, caving and canoeing nearby
  • “Family values” that extend to the pocketbook
  • Relaxed, Mayberry-esque locale, which appeals to nearly everyone
  • Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari are a theme park and water park here in town. We started out as Santa Claus Land back in 1946, and are still owned and operated by the Koch family, who got it all started seven decades ago. In addition to top-ranked roller coasters and one of the world’s largest water parks, we do crazy things like not charge for parking. Oh, and soft drinks and sunscreen are always free. Always!
  • Next door is Sun Outdoors Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Families get a kick out of their cabins, cottages, and rental RVs. They have a free shuttle to take campers to Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. Also, Santa’s Cottages are great for families.
  • Other stops in town include the Santa Claus Museum, the Santa Claus Post Office, Santa’s Toys, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Christmas Lake Golf Course, and Santa’s Candy Castle.
  • For an overview of the town’s offerings, please visit the Spencer County Visitors Bureau’s website
  • Just four miles down the road is the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln. There’s a national park, a living history farm, a state park, and Lincoln Amphitheatre, with musical performances throughout the summer and fall
  • Just over half an hour away are opportunities for caving (these are family cave tours, not crawl-on-your-belly trips) and canoeing

We hope you’ll plan a trip to visit us soon. We can’t wait to see you!