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Imagineering: The Making of Walt Disney World

Jeffrey Syken

“Imagineering is letting your imagination soar, and then engineering it down to earth”

It may come as a surprise, but this description of “Imagineering” (a portmanteau combining the words "imagination" and "engineering”), which has long been associated with The Walt Disney Company (WED Enterprises applied for a trademark for the term in 1967, claiming first use in 1962), has its origins in a February 1942 advertisement for ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America), which appeared in TIME magazine. ALCOA considered itself to be “The Place They Do Imagineering,” so too did Walter Elias Disney (WED) think of his organization as a place where imaginations soared and were brought back to earth via practical engineering. Thus, he made the term his own since it described so well what he and his band of merry “Imagineers” were doing back at their Glendale, Calif., “Imagineering Campus.” That is, putting into practical form creative ideas (i.e. “Audio-Animatronics”).

The world would see the product of Imagineering first in Disney’s award winning animated films, starting in the late 1920s. An alter-ego character by the name of “Mickey Mouse” was the genesis of what would become an empire of film production and theme parks all around the world. Disney animation brought-to-life characters that though fictitious, seemed very real; with very human characteristics – for better or worse. A string of successful films prior to WWII led to many awards in recognition of Disney’s contributions to mass entertainment. After WWII, Disney expanded into nature films, creating the much admired “True-Life Adventure” series of award-winning films. All the time, WED was thinking of a place where Disney fans could be “immersed” in his films’ characters while, at the same time experience the idealized America of his mid-western youth and the benefits of the free-enterprise system.

So it was that in July 1955, the world welcomed the first Disney “Theme Park.” Situated on 160-acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California “Main Street, U.S.A.” set the tone, making Disneyland the place-to-go, from both near and far. However, as Disneyland prospered so too did the area around it, preventing any serious expansion potential. By the late 1950s, WED and his brother, Roy O. Disney, were thinking of a second theme park, but this time there would be plenty of room for expansion and the Disney Company would be in full control. By 1963, “The Florida Project” was underway whereby thousands of acres of swampland in Central Florida were purchased, in secret, for the purpose of a “Disneyland East” that would be bigger and better than its predecessor. With the untimely death of WED in December 1966, Roy O. officially changed the name of the new park from “Disney World” to “Walt Disney World” (WDW) in honor of his brother’s memory. Today, WDW has expanded to four theme parks and two water parks, making it the most popular tourist destination in all the world.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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