Epcot at 40: How Walt Disney World Made Me a Technologist

People celebrating in front of Epcot.

Epcot Center Opening, October 1982

The Walt Disney Company/Media Archives

It was 1972. I was three years old. At the time, our single family was me, my mom, and my dad, living in Queens. My brother wasn’t born yet, and it was very early for my immediate family and my earliest memories. Although I don’t remember the finer details of that period, I remember it as a happy time.

It was a family vacation that started it all

One of my earliest memories was when we vacationed that year to Florida and Walt Disney World, which had only been open for about a year. We stayed Polynesian Village ResortThe second was one of the first two properties to open in the park A contemporary resort.

I don’t remember much about the Polynesian in 1972, but I do remember going into the contemporary.

Contemporary, at the time, was an ultra-futuristic and sophisticated resort hotel, with a giant open interior space where you could see all the floors on the “Grand Canyon” interior concourse. The park’s transportation system, an all-electric monorail, stops inside the crowd — you don’t even have to leave the air-conditioned confines of your hotel to board it.

Further: This hotel uses technology in a really creepy way (but some people will love it).

Inside the contemporary resort.

Disney World Contemporary Resort’s crowd

The Walt Disney Company

The original hotel had only 383 rooms in one building (it expanded to 655), but to a three-year-old, it was grand and awe-inspiring. I haven’t been back in 50 years, but I remember it vividly.

This hotel was originally part of A brilliant master plan by Walt Disney But the park was never fully realized, as he died of cancer in 1966 before construction was completed. According to his wishes, in addition to the theme parks, Walt Disney World was to have tomorrow’s experimental prototype city, where people lived and worked in utopian, futuristic bliss. EPCOT was the first “smart city” with amenities and automation that people could only dream of at the time.

Instead, we ended up with the permanent World’s Fair theme park we have today, celebrating its 40th birthday this week.

Disney’s Future and the World’s Fair

Walt Disney’s prototype city was influenced by the design of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, which showcased the future of American industrial might: consumer goods, transportation, technology, and the space age. It was held in New York City Flushing MeadowsRepresenting 80 countries, it attracted 51 million people.

The Walt Disney Company (and Walt himself) was heavily involved in many exhibitions, Exposes technologies It will then be used in its parks.

Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion at night.

Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair

New York City

My parents grew up not far from the place and worked there. During my childhood in the 1970s, my father brought me to see the surviving buildings. This includes Unisphere (no doubt EPCOT was the inspiration for the globe), the New York Hall of Science and the New York State Pavilion with its giant, space-age coliseum-like elliptical and circular observation towers.

Ten years after the exhibition, as shown in the documentary Modern Destruction: A World’s Fair PavilionThese buildings were already dilapidated and neglected, but they were still interesting.

Today we call this architectural style and aesthetic retro-futuristic design. This design ethos carried over to all aspects of Walt Disney World, including the monorail transportation system and EPCOT, which was built in the late 1970s and opened in the early 1980s (now defunct). Future World PavilionI visited it shortly after it opened as a teenager.

Impact on a generation

Disney greatly influenced children growing up in the 1970s because we didn’t have as many entertainment choices on television as young children do today. The Wonderful World of DisneyA show that airs Sunday evenings from 7:30-8:30 PM prime time on NBC, featuring cartoons and Disney films (mostly Break it up into parts over several weekends), was a Starting sequence Starring Tinker Bell, images of the park and brief conceptual images of EPCOT.

In retrospect, I recognize this as consumer propaganda, but as a kid, I was mesmerized by it. Every kid I know watched the show religiously, and as a result, begged their parents to bring them to the park on vacation to the Sunshine State, whether they could afford it or not.

Early conceptual drawings of the future of Disney World and EPCOT undoubtedly influenced others. The domed city Logan’s RunFeatured in the 1975 dystopian sci-fi film (one of the first movies I remember seeing in a theater with my father), Walt Disney’s unrealized experiment bears more than a passing resemblance to the prototype city.

The domed city of Logan's Run.

The Dome City of Logan’s Run.

United Artists Digital Studios/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Amazon)

If you look at EPCOT today, you can easily picture it Michael York, Rickard Jordan, Jenny Agutter and Farah Fawcett — I had teenage posters — running between the geodesic dome and surrounding structures.

There’s also a lot of this aesthetic in other 1970s and 1980s science fiction movies and TV series that kids of my generation enjoyed. Glenn A. Larson (Producer Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th century, And Knight RiderPerhaps a disciple of Walt Disney’s futurism.

The influence is visible in the works of others such as Sit meatHe did a lot of conceptual designs on the back Blade Runner, aliensAnd Disney Tron. Also, on maps Ralph McQuarriewho was one of the main influences behind the look Star Wars Movies that Disney used decades later with its Galaxy’s Edge theme park.

If you look at how Apple’s “spaceship” Cupertino headquarters was built, there’s some in the original Disney EPCOT — Steve Jobs was no doubt thinking of Uncle Walt in some way.

He was amazed by the technology

Walt Disney World’s vision of the future made an indelible impression on me after that first family vacation; It occupies a fundamental part of my memory and affects my life just like watching old episodes Star Trek will do my grandfatherSid introduced me to the series in the early 1970s re-runs.

Presidents like life in the Hall of Presidents.

Audio-animatronics in the Hall of Presidents

Disney Parks

While EPCOT did not become the futuristic city that Walt Disney wanted, it would be wrong to say that the theme park features cheapened the experience — if anything, they legitimized it.

From the perspective of a three-year-old, Mickey Mouse and actors walking around the park in silly costumes are nothing like Tiki Birds or Abraham Lincoln animatronics.

I vividly remember my initial wonder Enchanted tiki room And this Hall of Presidents How did these things come to life?

Realism Audio-animatronics Stunned me, but I knew – and understood – that they were artificial and robotic.

I realized that what brought them to life was not the costumed actors, but the technology. Even at the age of three, I didn’t understand what a “career” was or what people did in the tech industry, but when I grew up I wanted to do things like this or do something like this.

Why am I a technologist today? Its idea undoubtedly began on family vacations fifty years ago. So to EPCOT, happy 40th birthday to you — happy 51st birthday to Walt Disney World.

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