EPCOT Center Opens Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

With the opening of EPCOT Center, a theme park dedicated to showcasing international culture and technological innovation, Walt Disney Productions combined entertainment with education and invited visitors to envision the future.

Summary of Event

The opening of EPCOT Center marked the fulfillment of Walt Disney’s final dream, although it was a dream that had changed greatly since Disney first envisioned the project in 1965. EPCOT (for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) had its origins in Disney’s work for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, for which his company designed several attractions, including Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and It’s a Small World. These attractions later became staples at Disneyland, Disney’s California amusement park, but the experience led Disney to think about ways to solve the problems of urban living in the United States. He became convinced that a Disney-designed and -operated city dedicated to the happiness of its residents could elevate urban living in the same way Disneyland had transformed the old-fashioned amusement park into the modern theme park. Walt Disney Company Amusement parks Walt Disney World;EPCOT Center [kw]EPCOT Center Opens (Oct. 1, 1982) EPCOT Center Walt Disney Company Amusement parks Walt Disney World;EPCOT Center [g]North America;Oct. 1, 1982: EPCOT Center Opens[04970] [g]United States;Oct. 1, 1982: EPCOT Center Opens[04970] [c]Travel and recreation;Oct. 1, 1982: EPCOT Center Opens[04970] Disney, Walt Disney, Roy O. Walker, Card Sklar, Marty

Disney’s EPCOT plan would become the heart of his new Disney World project in Orlando, Florida. The first phase involved building a new amusement park similar to Disneyland; in the second phase, Disney would build an ultramodern city where twenty thousand residents could live and work in an environment free of pollution, slums, and urban blight. Utilizing a radial plan, the city would feature at its center a pedestrian-only downtown of restaurants, shops, and hotels, all enclosed and climate-controlled. Moving out from the downtown would be areas designed for apartments, parks, schools, and finally homes in wooded neighborhoods. Residents would work for different companies located in industrial parks beyond EPCOT’s borders, with all areas linked by electric public transportation such as monorail or PeopleMover. The only time people would need to use their cars was when they left the city.

Disney believed that by constantly incorporating new concepts in urban design and energy efficiency as well as advances in medicine and conservation, EPCOT, a city envisioned as twenty-five years ahead of its time, would become a living laboratory of the future and would influence city living for generations to come. He presented the ideas for his plan, including a three-dimensional model and conceptual drawings describing EPCOT’s layout and operation, in a thirty-minute promotional film made in October, 1966. The film ended with Disney enthusiastically telling the audience that he and his company were so excited they could not wait to begin. Only two months later, however, Walt Disney unexpectedly succumbed to lung cancer. The grand dream of EPCOT was over before it had really begun.

Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, took over leadership of Walt Disney Productions (the company changed its name to the Walt Disney Company in 1986) and committed himself to completing the first phase of the Florida project, which he rechristened Walt Disney World, by building the Magic Kingdom theme park and hotel resort area. The park and resort were successfully opened in October, 1971. Roy’s death in December, 1971, then left Walt Disney Productions without a Disney at the helm for the first time; it also left Disney’s leaders, including new chairman Card Walker, with the momentous decision of what to do about EPCOT.

Many anticipated the dangers of building such a city and felt that the company should let EPCOT die. (Walt’s former assistant on the project, Marty Sklar, humorously dubbed it “Waltopia.”) In the preceding century, similar model cities, such as Marne-la-Vallée, France (which became the site of Euro Disney in 1992), had failed because of conflicts between the cities’ residents and their governing bodies. Thirteen such model cities had failed in the United States alone in the mid-twentieth century. Many Disney executives felt that any attempt to build Walt’s dream city without his leadership, not to mention his business and industry connections, was doomed to failure. Others argued that, as Walt Disney World incorporated many of the ideas Walt had proposed, it already embodied the spirit of EPCOT. In 1974, after much discussion, Card Walker decided that the company would go ahead with EPCOT, although the form it would take was yet to be determined.

Under the leadership of Marty Sklar, WED Enterprises (now called Walt Disney Imagineering), which had designed and built California’s Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, focused its energies on Walt Disney’s long-dormant dream. After years of conceptualization, and taking its cue from the 1964 World’s Fair, EPCOT, now called EPCOT Center, would become not a living city of the future but a perpetual world’s fair about the future that would remain true to Walt’s ideals. The park would consist of two sections: Future World and World Showcase. Future World would display the latest innovations of American industry, medicine, agriculture, and energy production. It would also highlight humankind’s ecological stewardship of Earth with pavilions devoted to the best uses of the land, the oceans, and the air. World Showcase would feature international pavilions focusing on the accomplishments and cultures of other countries. Each showcase would be staffed by workers native to the country represented and would display reproductions of famous landmarks associated with the locale.

Construction began in 1980 on a 550-acre site two and one-half miles south of the Magic Kingdom, the very site selected by Walt Disney for the downtown section of the city he originally envisioned. Costs of the construction eventually rose to between $800 million and $1.2 billion, making EPCOT Center the largest private construction project in the world at the time.

EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982, to slow attendance, but the numbers of visitors to the park quickly increased over the first months; eventually, EPCOT Center matched the Magic Kingdom in terms of attendance. Mindful that the advances showcased at EPCOT would quickly become outdated, Disney Imagineering made plans to review the exhibits on a regular basis and redesign any that no longer appeared to reflect future trends.

Significance

Although it was not the utopian city Walt Disney first envisioned, EPCOT Center (known simply as Epcot since 1996) showcased technological advances to the general public and helped to increase international understanding through the mingling of the American public with the multicultural staff of the World Showcase pavilions. EPCOT Center

In addition, Walt Disney’s vision for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow changed a number of practical aspects of the daily lives of Americans, even though Disney never built the city he envisioned. Many EPCOT features, from mall-like shopping areas and pedestrian-friendly downtowns to neighborhoods featuring residential greenbelts and buried power lines, were subsequently adopted by cities around the world. EPCOT’s proposed traffic patterns, designed to diffuse congestion by emphasizing walking and pollution-free public transportation, became part of cutting-edge urban planning in the early twenty-first century. Even Disney’s idea of concentrating workplaces in industrial parks outside city limits came to fruition in places such as California’s Silicon Valley.

Although the idea of establishing utopian cities came to be viewed as impractical, Walt Disney’s vision endured into the twenty-first century in the minds of urban planners all over the world, just as Epcot continued to thrive as a popular theme park showcasing prototypical concepts of the future and communicating to the world the spirit of international cooperation. The park remains an embodiment of Disney’s unwavering belief in an optimistic future where science, industry, and individuals will come together to solve the problems of the world in the best spirit of the American free enterprise system. EPCOT Center Walt Disney Company Amusement parks Walt Disney World;EPCOT Center

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dunlop, Beth. Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996. Uncritical, enthusiastic presentation of the architecture of Disney from the original Disneyland forward. Features photographs and architectural drawings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Finch, Christopher. The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms. Rev. ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002. Illustrated history reviews Disney’s pioneering achievements in movies, television, and theme parks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Biography shows how Disney’s dreams reflected the desires of the American public in the first half of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kurtti, Jeff. Since the World Began: Walt Disney World The First Twenty-Five Years. New York: Hyperion/Roundtable Press, 1996. Contains detailed descriptions of Walt Disney’s EPCOT plans as well as how EPCOT Center evolved.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mosley, Leonard. Disney’s World: A Biography. New York: Stein & Day, 1985. Unflattering portrait focuses on the dark side of Disney’s personality and accomplishments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watts, Steven. The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Provides in-depth discussion of how Walt Disney became the primary architect of modern mass culture.

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