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Remembering Epcot Center's very first visitors

Jim Hill

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Remembering Epcot Center's very first visitors

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25 years ago today, several thousand construction workers and their family members got a special treat. Over that long-ago holiday weekend, they became the very first folks to visit Epcot Center.

 Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Of course, one might argue that these construction workers had actually earned this privilege. After all, they were the ones who came on-scene after the ground-breaking ceremony was over. After Card Walker and those four Florida governors (i.e Hayden Burns, Claude Kirk, Reubin Asken & Bob Graham) had turned a ceremonial spade at the worksite ...

 Copyright 1979 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

... They were the ones who came in with the bulldozers & the earthmovers and -- after clearing 600 acres of land and moving 54 million tons of earth ...

Copyright 1980 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

... began building Walt's last dream. Mind you, it wasn't the futuristic city that the company's founder had envisioned. But -- rather -- a permanent world's fair loaded with international pavilions as well as corporate sponsored exhibits that celebrate various aspects of human achievement.

Copyright 1981 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

That fact that Mouse House senior management eventually opted to deviate from Walt's original plans for this project remains (to this day) Epcot's most controversial aspect. But after he toured the worksite in May of 1982, former president Richard M. Nixon ...

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

... sent a note to Card Walker, which stated:

I can't find the superlatives adequate to describe Walt Disney World and the upcoming Epcot Center project.

The highest compliment that I can think of is that Walt Disney would have been proud of all those who are carrying on his great traditions.

Lots of WDW visitors wished that they could be in President Nixon's shoes and explore Epcot Center months before this theme park officially opened to the public. But the best they could do was enjoy a monorail ride through the then-still-active construction site and visit the temporary visitor's center that had been set up in Epcot Center's Monorail station.

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Getting back now to those lucky folks who got to visit Epcot Center over the Labor Day weekend in 1982 ... I think that it's important to point out that some of these people also may have had the chance to visit the worksite back in June of that same year. Back when the construction workers and their families were invited to take a tram ride around World Showcase promenade.

 Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Of course, there was method to Mickey's madness. In order for there to actually be a World Showcase promenade for their family members to ride around, these construction workers first had to finish pouring all of the concrete necessary for this 1.1 mile-long walkway ...

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

... Not to mention finishing up World Showcase Lagoon itself.

Copyright 1982 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

But the end result just dazzled all of these family members. Who thrilled at getting an up-close look at what was then the largest private construction project in the world. Which made these same folks all the more eager to get back to WDW's newest theme park when Disney managers invited them to be Epcot Center's very first visitors.

That sounds like a pretty memorable way to spend a Labor Day, don't you think?

Your thoughts?

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  • one of the many advantages to owning your building code (and presumably, its officials).  sneaking families onto an active construction site would be anathema in most locations.

  • Hi Jim. There must be reasons why Disney corporate decided not to follow Walts vision for EPCOT. Have you done an article on that, or could you write one sometime?

  • Ratatouille passed the $200 million mark in domestic ticket sales over the weekend. Any comments from Pixar?

  • I loved the EPCOT Center construction photos, Mr. Hill! It would be nice if you could do an article or two going a little more in depth about the construction of the theme parks.

  • I hope I'm not the only one who doesn't find Mr. Nixon's comment uninspiring(simply because it's coming from him.)

  • I find Mr. Nixon's comment inspiring, and I would think that the workers who toiled to build Epcot did as well at the time.  You're not scoring any political points with anybody with your snide remark, the man is dead after all.


  • okay it was a nice comment to make but coming from a crook?no thanks. but let's leave politics out of this.

  • President Nixon was a friend of Walt's, so I regard his comment as legitimate.  

    I'd like to hear impressions of the family members who experienced that sneak preview.  

  • nerve pain elavil

  • I was one of the lucky ones to work on Epcot. I was a foreman for John B Pike and sons and we built the Energy Pavilion and World of Motion. I will always have those great memories.

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