Epcot celebrates its 35th Anniversary this year, and to celebrate we’re doing 35 stories to countdown to October 1, 2017.
In this first installment, we’re going to talk about the beginning. We’re not talking about Epcot’s opening day in 1982.
We’re going to go back to the very beginning.
If you’re a longtime Disney fan, you’re probably very familiar with the story by now. EPCOT was an acronym. It stood for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and Walt’s original vision was that EPCOT would be a very futuristic city where people lived and worked.
You can trace the beginnings of EPCOT back to the 1964 World’s Fair and the Carousel of Progress. The attraction was a huge success for Disney, and gave viewers a glimpse of his version of the idealized future. The attraction was moved to Disneyland after Walt’s death, where a fifth act was added. After the attraction ended, people were treated to a model of Progress City.
A stripped down version of the Progress City model still exists in Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland, and you can see it by taking a ride on the TTA Peoplemover.
Progress City was a preview of what Walt had been dreaming up for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.
As early as 1964, Walt Disney had a clear idea of what EPCOT Center would be all about.
“EPCOT will take its cues from the new ideas and technologies emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems,” Disney said. “And EPCOT will be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.”
Disney presented the initial concept for his EPCOT during a pitch to the state of Florida in the now famous “Florida Project” film.
Filmed in October of 1966, Walt Disney would die less than two months later. And with him, the original plans for EPCOT.
Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom, a bigger, (arguably) better clone of Disneyland.
EPCOT Center: The Theme Park
But what of EPCOT? The company was not in a position to move forward with the city he wanted to create, and certainly not without Walt’s guidance.
It was decided that EPCOT would move forward, but as a theme park. Internally, there was some debate at Disney as to what the park would be about. Some suggested a permanent “World’s Fair” — focused on progress and technology. Others suggested a park dedicated to showcasing international cultures.
It turned out that the two ideas complimented each other very well, and the once circular park was now hourglass shaped, as both parks were pushed against each other forming the EPCOT Center that would be unveiled to the world on October 1, 1982.
Opening Day: October 1, 1982
EPCOT Center, the theme park, opened to great fanfare on October 1, 1982. According to the souvenir book Walt Disney World: 20 Magical Years, opening day ceremonies included “a sky full of multicolored balloons, hundreds of trained pigeons trailing red and blue streamers and fluttering white doves.”
Then Disney chairman Card Walker gave the dedication. He hailed EPCOT Center as an “enormous tribute to American ingenuity,” just as Walt had hope for, albeit in a stripped down form.
Disney promoted EPCOT heavily, through advertisements, promotional pieces and even a TV special starring Danny Kaye and a young Drew Barrymore, fresh off of the biggest film of 1982 — E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.
The future looked very bright for EPCOT Center indeed. And it certainly was, as new attractions were added throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The name was eventually shortened to just “Epcot” as the park has continued to evolve.
But the shine has worn off a little on Disney World’s once futuristic theme park. Many opening day attractions have since shuttered or fallen into a state of disrepair, eliciting comments from fans of early Epcot that Disney simply didn’t care much for the park that was once its crowning jewel.
Changes are coming, however, as Disney has announced a slew of upgrades to the park at this year’s D23 Expo.
For the next 34 days, we will be taking a closer look at Epcot’s past, present and future as we count down to the park’s 35th anniversary on October 1, 2017.
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Welcome aboard. Let’s re-discover the wonder together!
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