Walt Wednesday: The Biggest Thing We’ve Ever Tackled

Forty-six years and one day ago, after 18 months of secretly securing land, Walt and Roy took part in the official press conference to announce that Disney would be coming to Florida. For years they had been scouting out several locations for this venture including Niagara Falls, the Washington D.C. area, and St. Louis. In fact, WDW came very close to finding its home in Missouri. But, according to Married to the Mouse, after local business man, Gussie Busch, publicly criticized Walt for not wanting to sell alcohol inside his parks, Walt balked. (Get the connection? Busch as in Anheuser-Busch Company.)

In the end, the weather, its inland locale (something I actually don’t like about it), its highway system, and the undeveloped land dotted by water won out.

After being accidentally outed by a reporter (Emily Bavar) in October of 1965, Disney was forced to come clean about the company’s plans and a press conference was scheduled. On November 15, Walt spoke to a standing room crowd at the Cherry Plaza Hotel in Orlando.

In the end, the press was disappointed by the vague information Walt shared (or didn’t). They wanted more details! (This reminded me of the response to the recent Avatar project announcement.) Instead he offered numbers (the park would cost $100 million and employ 4,000 in central Florida) and a few tidbits about his “community of tomorrow”. (Does anyone else think the governor looked a little distracted?)

Two of my favorite moments in the conference were when Walt talked with great affection about his “big brother” and later, when he said “I don’t like to make sequels to my pictures. I like to make a new thing and develop a new concept.” Oh Walt, what would you think today?

Sadly, this press conference would be Walt’s only public appearance in Orlando. Exactly a month and a year later, on December 15, 1966, Walt passed away, before construction even began in Florida. Walt’s “big brother” came out of retirement to finish the job, and all of Walt’s efforts and research came together (mostly) in October of 1971.

After just coming back from a trip this past weekend, it’s hard to believe that less than 50 years ago… Walt Disney World was just land.

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

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