Since the World Began, Walt Disney World the First 25 Years by Jeff Kurtti

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney Parks, Features, The Disney Review, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 05, 2013 at 4:01 am with 7 Comments

I get a lot of questions about Disney history from MiceChat readers. Sometimes it’s a straightforward question about an attraction or a land that I can answer offhand; sometimes I have to dig into my vast archives of Eyes & Ears and other ephemera. As expected, I also get many questions about books that focus on the history of Walt Disney World. I put together a bibliography of books on Walt Disney World to help people find titles since there aren’t many books that explore the vacation kingdom in great detail. One of the titles on the bibliography stands out for numerous reasons.

Since the World Began was published in 1996 to coincide with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Until then, only a handful of official Walt Disney World publications and souvenir guides had been published; nothing that matched the scope of Since the World Began. Nothing else has even come close since.

Jeff Kurtti is one of the more prolific authors to write about Disney. He’s worked for the Walt Disney Family Museum, Walt Disney Imagineering, the Walt Disney Company and with various production companies. He’s an award-winning producer and consultant. The litany of titles that Jeff has authored and created is impressive and covers so many aspects of the Disney organization: the Art of Disneyland; the Art of Walt Disney World; Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends; Disney Dossiers; the Great Movie Musical Trivia Book; How Does the Show Go on? An Introduction to the Theater; and many “The Art of ” works on animated films.

In my list of all-time favorite Disney-related books, Jeff holds three of the top spots. Since the World Began is one of my favorite books, along with The Nickel Tour and The Art of Walt Disney World.

In Jeff’s own words, from the introduction:

That’s where this book begins. How did a central Florida swamp become the Number One family destination in the world? Whose idea was it? Who built it? Why did they build it there? What were the events and who were the people that inspired its ideas, design, topography, attractions, landscaping, resorts—its very existence? What has this come to mean? What is it going to become? pp. 10-11

Jeff answers these questions and many, many more in Since the World Began. He presents the work in a semi-chronological order; he divides the history based on the major developments of the vacation kingdom (i.e. Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, the Rest of the “World” and Future Developments). He begins with a look at Walt Disney and his dream for the Florida Project, including the importance of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The introduction of Disney’s involvement with the World’s Fair is highlighted in a side notes formula (of sorts). Presented on a light-blue background, Jeff relates relevant information throughout the book. Ranging from the very geeky (like the Reedy Creek Improvement District) to the more mundane (the hotels and recreation)—most facets of Walt Disney World are covered. After the segment on Walt’s passing, Jeff looks at the major players and how the resort came to fruition.

In each section of the book, Jeff takes a detailed look at the construction and growth of the theme parks. Scattered throughout are concept drawings, paintings and photographs of attractions never built and some that are gone and remembered wistfully. The text is replete with historical detail and anecdotes that will charm any Disney enthusiast. It’s obvious that Jeff is passionate about the vacation kingdom and it shines through his writing.

In addition to full-color photographs and historical details, Since the World Began offers the reader a singular look at the development of three major theme parks, more than a dozen hotels, ancillary services and a plethora of behind-the-scenes secrets. You won’t find another work that offers as much detail in one place. Jeff should be lauded for the ability to distill 25 years into a moving and enveloping work.

Jeff is able to share anecdotes from Imagineers and the people that worked on the various projects. We see the spark of inspiration for each park and how they grew from simple drawings to fully-realized locations. Since the book was published more than 15 years ago, much of the information has become common-place for the Disney enthusiast. This doesn’t erode the book’s value, it reinforces the importance of the book for the fan and the researcher. Many Disney historians use this book as the basis for their research.

Every Walt Disney World fan needs to own a copy of this book. It is a researcher’s dream and I hope that Disney Publishing is planning a new edition of this work for the 50th anniversary in 2021.

Have you read Since the World Began? What’s your favorite Walt Disney World history book?

 


By George Taylor

The Disney Review is written and edited by Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor

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About George Taylor

George has been obsessed with Disney theme parks since the first time he saw a photo of the Haunted Mansion in the early 70s. He started writing about Disney in 2007 and has amassed one of the world's largest Disney-related libraries.

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7 Comments

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  1. Jeff Kurtti seems like a great guy based on what I’ve read about him on Miceage, but at 186 pages (not including acknowledgements, index etc.), this book is too thin for me to recommend. WDW was so large in my childhood that I don’t know if any book could capture why it filled my imagination, but WDW deserves a volume = to Disneyland’s “Nickel Tour” book. Maybe Jeff can get to work on finding great photos and the best quotes from the most eloquent writers for a 300-page volume for the 50th in 2021. Walt Disney World deserves that, even if the last 12 years haven’t been as astonishing as the first 30.

    • I think Kurtti does a good job of straddling the line. Sadly, Disney likes to whitewash its own history, so we do have to rely on secondary resources to put together a full look at WDW history. I love that Kurtti attempted a history and did his best to put one together that was probably mandated by management.

      Kurtti did try to get one put together for the 40th, but was rebuffed by Disney Publishing. It sounded like they have their eye on one for the 50th, though.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Since the World Began is one of my treasured books. However, it’s due for an update to include the new parks, hotels and attractions since the last edition.

    Jeff is truly one of the top Disney authors and this is one of the best books on WDW.

  3. You’ve got two competing audiences for Disney theme park books: the casual buyer and the Disney Geek. Books rarely satisfy both groups. “Since the World Began” comes close to doing that. Geeks always want more detail, bigger books, and lots behind-the-scenes stuff. Casual buyers want picture books as a memory of their trip.

    The problem is that the casual buyers are the much larger audience, and so these types of books are more likely to get published, and they will be superficial and thin.

    Geeks are a much smaller audience, and they want big books and don’t mind if they’re more expensive, however there are a lot fewer copies of these types of books sold.

    So, you have to recognize the tension between these two groups in terms of being a publisher trying to satisfy both of them.

    • Good post, Fukai!

      I’m clearly in the geek category. But in this case I could imagine that an equally short book could have satisfied me more if the photos had been as good as Dusty’s best and if the writing were as inspired as the prose that is sometimes crafted by Al Lutz, Kevin Yee, Mr. Wiggins or David Koenig. Theme parks are a great and popular American art form, but have yet to receive the honor they deserve, aside from a few architecture critics who’ve appreciated Disneyland. I’m not saying that Jeff Kurtti phoned this in, but I was disappointed. (I ordered the book used via Amazon after reading great things about it on Miceage.) Tens of millions of parents have visited WDW as kids, so publishers might be underestimating the size of our geek category.

      • P.S. (Rant continued) It’s hard to imagine a respected critic admitting that he or she didn’t appreciate paintings or statues, yet even Disney’s best theme parks are dismissed as “artificial” by many decaying brains. All art is artificial and the uplift one feels at Disneyland is not inferior to whatever one feels in front of the black lines of a Franz Kline. Actually, Steve Martin (a former Franz Kline owner) might agree.

        Then again, I don’t get the impression that WDW’s leaders have appreciated its potential (other than its financial potential) over the last 10+ years. I’ve written this before, but if only Steve Jobs had lived and invested some more of his energy into Disney, which he owned so much of.

    • It’s obvious that the second hand market backs up your points.

      Even when Disney has published something geekier than normal (like the Art of DL and WDW titles), they still print a limited run and the price skyrockets.

      The difficult point for a non-Disney publisher or author is coming up with appropriate photos for use in the books. Like Amid’s issues with Ward kimball’s biography, Disney wants to control the whole thing.

      Great comment!