Every Disney theme park has its share of interesting history, but the Magic Kingdom, the first park at Walt Disney World, has a particularly interesting narrative. From finding the right spot to house Disney’s second theme park to the addition of both original rides and adapted ones to other major occurrences, there’s a lot to know about what’s happened with the Magic Kingdom over the course of almost sixty years.
Here are years that jumped out as momentous to me, and the reasons I think so.
Market surveys showed that only 5% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, even though 75% of the United States lived there. Walt also had issues with the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wished to control a bigger space of the new project. Disney hired Economic Research Associates, a private consultancy, to look for a good location for Walt’s second theme park. One of the suggested sites was the then-unknown city of Orlando, Florida.
Roy O. Disney and a lawyer proposed the purchase of large swathes of land in Florida. After it was suggested to him, Walt visited Florida and decided on Orlando over another city in Florida named Ocala. Disney used dummy corporations to acquire the land so that Disney World would stay secret and so the land wouldn’t suddenly become extremely expensive.
Walt Disney died of lung cancer years before the park would open. Roy Disney postponed his retirement to make the Orlando park a reality, and renamed the resort from Disney World to Walt Disney World in his brother's honor.
The Magic Kingdom’s opening day was October 1, 1971, and the park welcomed over ten thousand attendees. Attractions that premiered that day included some rides that would quickly be forgotten by most along with classics like It’s A Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Dumbo The Flying Elephant, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Roy O. Disney ran a dedication ceremony for The Magic Kingdom on October 23. Sadly, Roy died of a cerebral hemorrhage only two months after Disney World opened on December 20th, 1971. Following his passing, Don Tatum took control of Disney World as the chairman, and Esmond Cardon “Card” Walker served as president.
There were a fair amount of new attractions that opened in 1973 at the Magic Kingdom, but probably the most significant one was Pirates of the Caribbean’s introduction to Orlando (by popular demand due its previous success at Disneyland). Its popularity there and at the other Disney parks obviously sparked a major movie franchise, the most successful series ever based on a theme park attraction.
Space travel was of great interest to Americans in the mid-70s, so Space Mountain launched in the Magic Kingdom on January 15th, 1975. It was a great addition to the park for thrill-seekers who found other attractions at Walt Disney World too tame. It premiered in Orlando first; Space Mountain didn’t arrive in Disneyland until two years later in 1977. Also in 1975, on June 6, America on Parade debuted to honor the United States’ upcoming Bicentennial.
Not a lot happened in 1976 except for one major milestone: a 13 year-old girl from Virginia named Susan Brummer became Disney World’s fifty-millionth attendee.