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From Barren Swampland to Walt Disney World in 60 Incredible Photos

Spaceship Earth construction

In the late 1960s, Disney acquired 25,000 acres of barren swampland in Florida. Over the next four decades, the company transformed it into the world's leading theme park resort.

It wasn't an easy job. Miles and miles of drainage canals were built, millions of trees, shrubs and other plants were introduced and entire lakes were excavated. Four enormous theme parks were eventually built, along with two water parks, a shopping and entertainment district and dozens of huge hotels.

We're all familiar with images of the finished theme parks. But what did Walt Disney World's attractions look like while they were being constructed? We've dug out a series of stunning photographs that show how the enormous structures were put together, and put them into a single article that shows how 40 years of intense development led us to where we are today.

Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World's first theme park, the Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971. It is a virtual clone of the original Disneyland in California, but on a larger scale - Disneyland covers 85 acres, whereas the Magic Kingdom sprawls across 107 acres.

To enable Cast Members to move around the park without being seen, a series of tunnels, known as "utilidors", were built underneath the park. To do this, soil excavated from the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the park was used to build up the level of the park.

Before:

Here's a look at Cinderella Castle as it was being built. The castle stands at 189 feet tall, compared to Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland which is just 77 feet tall. Both castles used "forced perspective" techniques to make them appear larger - as each gets taller, its width gets smaller. No stonework was used to create Cinderella Castle, despite its appearance. The building's shell is made out of fiberglass.

Liberty Square construction (4)

The next few photos show the Rivers of America (a false waterway that winds its way around Frontierland and Liberty Square), as well as the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square.

Liberty Square construction (2)

Liberty Square construction (3)

Liberty Square construction (5)

Haunted Mansion construction

After:

And here's a look at the finished product...

Cinderella Castle

Haunted Mansion

Space Mountain

Here's a look at one of the first major additions to the Magic Kingdom's line-up: Space Mountain. The ride opened in 1975, and you can see images of both the exterior and interior below.

Before:

Space Mountain construction (2)

Space Mountain construction (1)

Space Mountain construction (4)

Space Mountain construction (3)

Space Mountain construction (5)

After

Space Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

In 1980, a second "mountain" opened at the Magic Kingdom. The enormous Big Thunder Mountain required 650 tons of steel, 4,675 tons of "mud" and more than 9,000 gallons of paint to construct.

Before:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad construction

Image: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

After:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (7)

Image: Sam Howzit

Spash Mountain

Splash Mountain joined the Magic Kingdom's line-up in 1992. More than 65 Audio-Animatronic characters populate the attraction, with the concrete flume winding for more than 2,600 feet.

Before:

Splash Mountain construction (1)

Splash Mountain construction (2)

After:

Splash Mountain
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There are 15 comments.

wow what a great write up that was and to see some old pics of then and now love it

I believe the third photo under Spaceship Earth is actually World of Motion.

I believe you're right. Removed for now.

It isn't. It definitely is Space Mountain. Just look at the foreground, and you'll see Cinderella Castle. You wouldn't see the castle at Epcot.

It isn't. Just look at the Background and you can see Cinderella Castle. You wouldn't see the castle at Epcot

Wow! Thank you for sharing! It's great to see how wdw all started!! So amazing!!

I loved looking at these pics. brings back memories, my husband was working out there as a crane operator, heavy equip operator, his dad was an ironworker as were his two brothers that I can recall, they were ironworkers. when the park opened for the vips, when it was done, I was there with my husband and his d ad and his brothers, and they all pointed out different items, or areas etc that they had worked on and it was very kool to see the different ironwork that was made into railings and my father in law and brothers in law were very involved in this as was my husband with the crane., and heavy equipment.. very very nice presentation and it did bring back alot of memories from the 70's now my two kids are working at disney .. Isnt life strange, how things go round in a circle sort of and some back to u!!

Love looking at construction photos of Disney World. May I recommend the popular Disney Avenue blog for their popular "Making of" articles for more construction photos like these. Great article!!! The link is disneyavenue.blogspot.com

Absolutely. Disney Avenue is a fantastic website.

Thanks, as is Theme Park Tourist, its one of our favorites and we will be adding it to our list of recommended sites!

Hi i am a visitor from the UK and I will just say you never grow up Disney is just great.

Great article. One request which others might appreciate also: when possible, be more specific in your photo citations. For example, if I want to find a specific photo you have here credited to Tom Simpson's Flickr site, I have to wade through his 3,000+ untagged, barely organized pile of photos to get to it. A link straight to the actual photo would be awesome!

Otherwise, keep up the great work! I visit your site many times a week.

-Jim

Great article with some great photos!!!

Very cool. (Correct the bold heading "Spash Mountain" to "Splash.").

Absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. My first time to the Disney World parks was in 2000. Ever Since, I have been to all the parks hundreds of times. I'm just amazed how it all came together. Fascinated with the history of Disney. I have already been to MK 3 times this week. :) it's crazy, but I love it. Thanks again.

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