EPCOT Center and the Future

Written by George Taylor. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Epcot, Features, Imaginerding, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 14, 2014 at 2:00 am with 12 Comments

“Where is EPCOT Center?,” was the oft-heard cry in the early 1970s around Walt Disney World. Guests, media, government officials and cast members constantly asked about the city of tomorrow. Walt’s pervasive dream of a futuristic city was more than enough to sell the Florida governments (state and local municipalities) on giving the Walt Disney Productions an almost unheard of freedom for development. So, expectations were extremely high for what was going to be built in Florida. Even though there was constant innovation through new technologies, they were often behind-the-scenes and not as glamorous as a futuristic city.

“Where is EPCOT Center?”

In the January 26, 1974 Eyes & Ears, Card Walker was asked the following question: The long-term question most often asked is about EPCOT. Is any work being done yet on design?

Card: Let’s put it this way .. . we’ve never really stopped working on EPCOT. Many of the things we’ve done already are part of the EPCOT plan … our sewer, power, AVAC, underground utilities, and transportation, our tree farm experiments and many other things … they’re all part of the ideas behind EPCOT. Also … for the last three months, our creative team at WED has been working on designs . .’.and we’re now planning on combining key people from each of the companies we’re now involved with, the participants we’re meeting with this week, and the best minds of the academic world. We’re going to aggressively pursue this project.

Once you begin to delve into the history of Walt Disney World, you’ll often find the beginnings of EPCOT Center. We’re not talking about Walt’s city, but the cutting-edge technology that would be the basis for EPCOT Center. In the first few years of the Magic Kingdom and the resort itself, you’d be hard-pressed not to find technological advancements everywhere.

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The four towers identify the chiller building where air conditioning was produced. The solar roof of the Reedy Creek Utilities Company is featured on the left. From Walt Disney World: The First Decade.

Early books, magazines and internal publications focused on the technological changes that Disney was ushering in to create, maintain and expand the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Solar power, fiber-optic communications (including the first 911 system in Florida), water-reclamation and more. Card Walker and Donn Tatum spent a lot of 1975 and 1976 trying to get people to see that EPCOT Center was already being implemented at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.

But before we go any further, let’s explain very basically and briefly the current plan for EPCOT. All 43 square miles of our property is in many ways actually becoming part of EPCOT already. Card Walker, 1975.

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The Traffic Operator Traffic System (TOPS) was installed in 1975 and assisted telephone operators with routing calls. It was the first installation of its kind in the continental United States and showed the origin of the call and the billing address. It allowed more than 90 countries to be dialed directly. From Walt Disney World: The First Decade.

Walt Disney World and, in particular, Epcot Center used to be known for taking advantage of and implementing forward thinking technology. And not just the additions of Magic Bands or Frozen-themed merchandise.Basically, it seems like any technological breakthroughs now are being directed by the company’s desire to extend vacations and get more money from the guests. I get that.

I just want Future World to become a showcase for technology.

Case in point: I was listening to a podcast called TechStuff and they often refer to Epcot Center in regards to the latest and greatest technologies of the early 1980s. Jonathan and Lauren, the hosts, have mentioned the WorldKey Kiosks and even touring on Segways when they refer to cutting edge tech. One of their shows was called Solar Freaking Roadways and discussed using solar panels as our actual highways. It’s a weird concept to think about driving on solar panels, but the hosts discuss a lot of the pros and cons. Listening to the show made me realize that this is exactly the type of forward-thinking technology that we need to see at Epcot and throughout the Walt Disney World property today.

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Besides being able to power a lot of the resort, the solar road panels would also have a LED technology to change the direction of roads and direct people. Obviously, it would help with parking and directing people to the appropriate place based on their MagicBand. (Is this thing on?) Seriously, the roadway could be changed to re-direct traffic flow, assist guests with exiting parking lots and delineate areas for parking. Imagine being able to follow a brightly colored line or arrow to get to your parking space.

Time and again, these important and distinguished people said that only Disney seems to have the two vital prerequisites…the credibility with the public and an ability to communicate issues such as the energy crisis. In fact, these people told us that the energy story cannot wait…that it is absolutely vital to the general public understand the complete energy story, as soon as possible. Card Walker, 1975.

It’s been argued that the solar panel roadway is just too expensive, but what about using the panels throughout the resort? Walkways at Downtown Disney or in Future World? Talk about a great way to refresh Tomorrowland. You could also run the solar panels alongside or off of the monorail beamway. To appease the bean counters, you could always use the embedded LEDs to help market and promote the latest film!

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It comes down to the fact that Epcot (and Walt Disney World Resort) are no longer investigating and implementing technologies in order to create a better world. We did face severe resource crises during the 1970s and that influenced how Disney was able to get EPCOT Center built. Major companies were willing to help support Walt’s dream that was supposed to end the problems of our cities. Granted, I understand that the world has changed and that people want more entertainment than education. Also, we face a fiscal crisis instead of an energy crises. People change and Disney has to keep up to continue to get people to continue to spend money. Hence, you can trace the evolution of Advance Dining Reservations, FastPass, MagicBands and My Magic Plus.

Personally, I’d like to see Disney get back to adding more cutting-edge technology to their parks and partnering with initiatives like the Solar Roadways.

Visit http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml to learn more about the Solar Roadways Project.

What new technologies would you like to see Disney look into for the Florida property?

Check out this great book about the first decade at Walt Disney World.


ImagiNERDing is written and edited by George Taylor

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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12 Comments

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  1. Right on! Solar panel roadways are a fascinating idea. I was really hoping that they’d start focusing on Future World again when Tom Fitzgerald took charge. While that may be happening, we aren’t hearing anything publicly. That makes me nervous.

    • If Tom Fitzgerald’s in charge, look for less Walting and more Presslering.

  2. Tragically, the vast majority of modern vacationers are mouth-breathers with microscopically-short attention spans. I’m sure survey after survey shows little or no interest in educational attractions or new technologies at Epcot. So, there’s no way shareholders will support the high cost of investing in something with almost no guest interest.

    I’ve talked to many people who say they visited Epcot Center in its early years. With the exception of hard core Disney-Heads, their impression is always the same. “I didn’t like it. Too much educational stuff like a museum.”

    • LOL, mouth-breathers.

      Short attention spans are another reason why we will never see attractions like Horizons, Carousel of Progress, Universe of Energy ever again.

  3. I am a tremendous EPCOT Center fan and, unfortunately, this park went out of fashion way before it should have. I think that part of the problem was that Disney compromised the overall theme of the park as soon as Eisner and Wells came in. The Disney characters weren’t supposed to be part of the park but around 1985 (a scant three years after opening) Mickey was greeting guests out front. The park became infused with the characters and then this lead to terrible decisions like operating a daily Cricus, an aerial afternoon “sky” show, the addition of Barbie, etc. Before you knew it the whole place became cheapened and turned into a .99 cent store overnight.

    If they would have stuck to the original concept and built the second ring of World Showcase pavilions I think the park would have stood the test of time a little longer. Don’t get me wrong, the original attractions were getting long in the tooth by the mid 90s but that was part of the overall problem, Eisner immediately went off to build the Studio park and EPCOT Phase 2 never really materialized. They needed to infuse the park with new rides and attractions and they never did – they chose to revamp many in cheapened ways. Yes we got a Health pavilion and a Norway ride but what else? Mission Space doesn’t draw them in anymore because of the claustrophobic “vomit comet” nature of the experience.

    Now, poor Epcot, for as popular as people like to say it still is on these boards, seems to wallow as a lumpy mess struggling for an identity. Let’s be honest, the ONLY thing saving this park is the fact that it is part of the Park Hopper concept and it is incorporated into the Dining plan. Except for those two things the park would have gone the way of Circus World and Stars Hall of Fame by now.

    • EPCOT is the fifth busiest theme park in the world. Circus World at its peak was the 289th busiest theme park in the world.

      EPCOT is a success because it really is the Central Park of WDW. Like NYC’s Central Park and its surrounding area, there are boat rides, shows, movies, gardens, stores and restaurants, but mostly there is a beautiful area to walk around in, with iconic sights around each corner. It is the zen of Japan, the gusto of Germany, and the food of France. You can spend time underwater or in space. There is simply no where else on Earth quite like it.

      • I wish I could filter my perceptions of Epcot’s current state as effectively as you can rodc, but sadly, I can’t. You seem to enjoy the ambiance of this park and I agree there are a few hidden gems here and there but more and more, especially with the new Innoventions paint job, the place is looking more and more like an outlet mall.

        The attractions haven’t changed in years because I think they realize that the new incarnations are crappier than the original version (Gran Fiesta, Journey, Land boat ride to name a few). Now with things like the France movie they are restoring the print and upgrading sound but the movie is the same because they seem to have no imagination left at WDI to improve the original product offerings. It is just a sorry state of affairs at Epcot these days.

        Yet, they get the visitors but I still suggest that it is only because of the park hopper integration and the dining plan. If those two things didn’t exist this park no longer has the legs, in its current state, to stand on its own as a relevant Disney experience.

  4. Great article George, it’s such a shame that Disney have effectively moved away from promoting the future as. Solar roadways would have been an ideal technology for EPCOT centre to demonstrate.

    I think the decline of EPCOT is linked to the increasing juvenilisation of WDW. Rather than the vacation kingdom of the world catering to all ages and tastes we now have kiddy land adverts catering to a single demographic, it’s such a shame that the people in charge don’t have the vision of their 70s forebears.

    • I think the decline at EPCOT also parallels the current decline in our country with the lack of innovation, stripped down NASA space program, Great Recession, ect. The park is currently stale with cheap props and needs life brought back into it. Where’s all the new updated Technology’s?

  5. In the 90s, corporate sponsorships started drying up and a bunch of Silver-age Imagineers came in, cocky, hell-bent on showing that they were better than the Golden-age Imagineers who had built EPCOT Center – mostly by destroying what they had built and replacing it with stuff that was “extreme” and “edgy”.
    Google a character called Orrin Shively, one of the worst perpetrators of this practice. Fortunately, he’s no longer allowed near theme parks, but he is perched over at Disney Online. Expect VMK’s replacement to be a series of tests that show you how stupid you are.

  6. The Simpsons in their Epcot episode said it is a horribly dated 1960s take on the far future of the year 1984. They were spot on.

    I think they should make future world Star Wars themed. One all encompassing theme would be better then mixing Nemo, Michael Jackson, and Ellen. Plus it would bring back the nerds to Epcot.

  7. Very interesting article. As a child, I visited Epcot several times. In fact, Epcot and tomorrowland were my favorite areas. Strange as it sounds, through a child’s eyes, I viewed Disney as a technology company. I was waiting for the day when those animatronics would become robots in my home. The future always fascinated me, which is why I was a Disney fan. If Disney was not so focused on media, they could have been Apple. All the pieces were there. I still enjoy the parks and movies, but part of me feels disappointed that Disney does not seem to really embrace the idea of “tomorrow.”