And in 72 years, six other Disney princesses followed, including a Native American Pocahontas, an Arab Jasmine and a Chinese Mulan.
Now for the first time - the fairest of them all - will be African American, reports CBS News Correspondent Michelle Miller.
Her name is Tiana - star of "The Princess and the Frog." The movie's already making headlines, and the pressure is on Disney to get her story right.
"Girls of color are among the most invisible people in our country," says Carol Jenkins of the Women's Media Center. "I think that for little girls to have this validation is just magnificent."
Five-year-old Reese Marie Kwabi just saw the trailer.
"I think it's just very important that she understands that a princess can come in many colors, shapes and sizes," her mom Terrie says.
With the December release, the movie merchandise won't hit stores until the fall. But there's already a legion of fans - and critics - and most of them aren't even little girls.
Disney's past productions have drawn criticism for racial stereotypes - like "The Jungle Book's" jive-talking monkeys, or "The Lion King's" street-wise hyenas.
Michael Baran, a cultural anthropologist at Harvard University, says the message sticks.
"Adults don't even notice these things and kids don't even talk about them," he says. "But they are subtly figuring out that there are racial groupings."
Princess Tiana isn't immune. Controversy first hit the blogs over her name and her job. She started as Maddy, a maid, and is now a budding chef longing to own her own restaurant. Disney's even vetted the plot with prominent African Americans. But bloggers are now debating Tiana's Brazilian accented prince.
"I just wonder why, with this first African princess why they didn't have an African American prince to go along with her," says Angela Bronner Helm, senior editor at "Blackvoices.com."
Disney says as with any film, the characters are evolving as the story develops.
For little girls like Reese trying to play the part, Tiana may give them more reason to believe.