When EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982, it was a sincere display of futurism, innovation, corporate power, and industry. Because, in hindsight, it also has an inordinate amount of closed classics, you’ve heard us examine the park’s ambitious and brave concept in Lost Legends features telling the in-depth stories of Journey into Imagination, Horizons, Maelstrom, Soarin’, and Body Wars – just a small sampling of the stunning features preserved in our In-Depth Collections Library.
But there is perhaps no Lost Legend more telling of the park’s grand, educational, World’s Fair roots than World of Motion. Often overlooked in Epcot’s history of bulldozed classics, this incredible, epically sized dark ride through the history of transportation was no less impressive or important than Universe of Energy or Spaceship Earth. In fact, its story is of a one-of-a-kind Disney dark ride created by famed animators packed with as many creative gags and effects as the Haunted Mansion.
Today, we’ll begin with the proverbial invention of the wheel and examine the truly unique experience of this EPCOT Center original… and the modern thrill ride for which it paved the way.
If you’ve caught up on our other Lost Legends entries, you know that the story of any closed attraction typically begins years before the ride’s opening.
For World of Motion, the story begins in a prologue common to quite a few Disney classics: the 1964 – 65 New York World’s Fair. Though they’d been around since the 1800s, by the mid-century these global expos hosted in international cities had become corporate showcases of innovation and industry. At the height of the 1960s (with all its Americana, optimism, and futurism in tact), people flocked to Flushing Meadows in Queens to see what wonders General Motors, IBM, Bell System, Sinclair Oil, and Chunky Candy would have to put on display.
This particular event holds a distinctive place in Disney history, as Walt and his Imagineers had been contracted by four entities to produce attractions for the Fair. General Electric, the State of Illinois, Pepsi-Cola, and Ford Motor Company had commissioned what would become Carousel of Progress, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, “it’s a small world,” and another Lost Legend: The Peoplemover, respectively.
Allegedly, there was some discussion of the Walt Disney Company retaining the attractions they’d created on-site in New York and converting Flushing Meadows Park into a “Disneyland East.” As we know, any such plans were abandoned and Disney’s four attraction creations were instead relocated to Disneyland and installed permanently at the close of the Fair.
But we also know that Walt and his team did not dispense with the idea of creating a World’s Fair of their own, taking what they’d learned from New York.
While he may be best known for his animated tales and amusement parks, Walt Disney was, at his core, a visionary futurist. We’ve long logged Walt’s infatuation with the future in the tales of his Tomorrowland. It seems that the project Walt himself was most enthusiastic about was his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – EPCOT.
Walt intended for this EPCOT to singularly redefine urban living – a radial city with an enclosed pedestrian urban city center, a “green belt” of parks, schools, stadiums, churches, and community centers, and an outer ring of residential areas. This real city would’ve been a blueprint for the future; a radical reinvention that would shape the evolution of any modern city that would come after it.
But the keystone of EPCOT would be its transportation – a cutting edge network would criss-cross the symmetrical city. The (few) highways and roadways that entered the city would be buried far from pedestrian traffic, leading to massive parking decks at the city’s core under the 30-story hotel. Externally, the city would be connected to the outside world via none other than the monorail. The monorail line proposed would have stops at the Airport of Tomorrow (to be built just outside the city), the Disney World Welcome Center, EPCOT City, and – last stop – Magic Kingdom.
Once riders arrived at the city of EPCOT, they would disembark from the monorail and transfer to sleek, pollution-free Peoplemovers that would transport folks from the city center to the outer ring of residential areas, like arteries circulating to the finer points of the city. These Peoplemover paths would diverge from the city center and reach to all corners of the circular metropolis. Continuously moving, these constant cabs would keep traffic flowing day and night.
Both the Monorail and the Peoplemover had debuted at Disneyland (in 1959 and 1967, respectively), but merely as attractions meant to demonstrate the possibilities of tomorrow. In EPCOT, they would be real; essential, practical applications sincerely put to work. Not as models, but as the start of something new.
Walt’s brother Roy stated that as Walt lay dying of lung cancer in the hospital, he was still planning his EPCOT metropolis, using the ceiling tiles of the hospital room to plot the city’s layout. Unfortunately, Walt died on December 15, 1966 – long before any part of his “Florida Project” could come to fruition.
The earliest steps of EPCOT did come to pass, as Florida’s governor Claude Kirk Jr. signed a law establishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, effectively giving Disney governmental control over itself. Ultimately, Disney’s remaining leaders decided that the idea of building a city was simply too risky without the man who’d so passionately spearheaded the project. Still, Disney did go forward with building Magic Kingdom, and Roy insisted that this Disney World be renamed Walt Disney World as a tribute to his brother, opening in 1971.
The city of EPCOT was not to be. Instead, in the late 1970s, then-CEO Card Walker proposed a new take on EPCOT – a second theme park for Walt Disney World. This new adaptation wouldn’t be the city Walt dreamed of, but it would work off of his ideals and his fascination with futurism and the power of American industry. That's how the ambitious, progressive model of EPCOT merged conceptually with Disney’s long-running interest in building a permanent World’s Fair.
EPCOT Center would be the best of both worlds, inviting corporations to showcase their cutting edge technologies in pavilions focused on science and industry; a permanent World's Fair theme park dedicated to innovation.
Transportation would be an indelible piece of EPCOT Center, too. Sure, a new monorail spur route was diverted off to the south to circle the park’s “World’s Fair” style icon, Spaceship Earth. But transportation would also be selected as one of the park’s core areas of industry. Alongside energy, ocean, land, heath, imagination, communication, and innovation, and entire pavilion would be dedicated to transportation and its incredible living history.
On the next page, we’ll dig into World of Motion. Read on…