Celebrating 40 Years of EPCOT: An Imagineer’s Dream Come True

From the Disney Parks Blog and written by: Tom Fitzgerald

It seems like only yesterday that my fellow Imagineers and I were on the EPCOT Center site – along with 10,000 other workers – bringing to life one of the largest construction projects in the world at that time. Now here we are, 40 years later, continuing to build and evolve this dream. Though we shouldn’t be surprised.

Walt Disney had promised that EPCOT would always be “in a state of becoming.” The park has seen many changes over the years, none more dramatic than the current transformation. The visioning for this new work started almost a decade ago when Imagineering and our partners at Walt Disney World began to explore how to take EPCOT to its next chapter. World Showcase would evolve to include adding new stories to existing country pavilions. And Future World would reorganize its identity around three major themes: World Discovery, World Nature and World Celebration. To date, we’ve already introduced exciting new shows, stories, attractions, merchandise and dining experiences, with more to come.

Over the next few weeks, looking ahead to the 40th Anniversary of EPCOT, you’ll be hearing stories and memories from cast members who have been inspired by EPCOT over the years. Here are two of mine.


Card Walker announcing EPCOT center

In October of 1978, I was working at the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and dreaming of one day getting to work for WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) in California. A fellow cast member tipped me off that Card Walker, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Walt Disney Productions, was about to announce the EPCOT Center project to the World Congress of the International Chamber of Commerce – who were meeting at the Contemporary Resort Hotel. And even better, that they had set up models and artwork in a curtained-off room near the hotel’s lobby. As soon as I finished my shift, I raced over to the hotel and snuck into the EPCOT presentation area. I was blown away by what I saw and knew I wanted to be a part of bringing that vision to life.

I headed to California and was fortunate to be hired by Marty Sklar to join the Imagineering team. Before long, I was assigned to projects for the Future World area of EPCOT Center. Computers and robots eventually led to work on Horizons. The pavilion would open a year later than the rest of EPCOT Center and would showcase future living in urban, desert, ocean and outer space environments. In a way, it would be a nod to the Carousel of Progress show, following a family through its storyline, but in an immensely grander scale and scope, with dozens of Audio-Animatronics characters.

As mentioned in text: playing the role of the teen-age “Submarine Mechanic” in the show

In those days, Imagineers were often pulled in as models or “actors” for Audio-Animatronics figures in shows – and on this one, Disney Legend (and master sculptor) Blaine Gibson volunteered me to play the role of the teenage “Submarine Mechanic” in the show.

I can’t claim any acting or mechanical abilities, and I certainly wasn’t a teenager, but that’s how things were sometimes cast back then. It was a great deal of fun.

Being a part of the original team that brought EPCOT Center to life, and the team that has continued to oversee the growth of EPCOT over the years, has been an honor and dream come true for me. I truly believe that EPCOT has been, as Walt hoped it would be, an inspiration to the world over these past 40 years. Here’s to the next 40 … and beyond!


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