For the last several weeks, I have been writing columns about EPCOT Center in 1982, the year it opened. I tried to document some stories and information that have been forgotten over the last three decades. During my research, I came across many interesting facts that I couldn't fit into those columns.
To celebrate Epcot's 30th anniversary that is taking place this month of October, here are 30 things (many of them I never knew) about EPCOT Center in 1982. Next week, I will once again start exploring other Disney topics.
Disney fans will immediately respond that it is called Epcot because that is what Walt Disney himself called it. However, Walt's plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow were rapidly discarded according to Jack Lindquist (who in 1982 was senior vice president for advertising, publicity, promotion and public relations for Walt Disney Productions) "because of the difficulty of establishing any kind of a real community life in a place where thousands of tourists would come tramping through every day. We could have called [EPCOT Center] anything but if we had opened it under another name, the media would still be asking, 'But when are you going to open Epcot?' In an important sense, EPCOT Center is the whole 27,500 acres we own there [in Florida]."
EPCOT Center, although often referred to as a permanent world's fair, because of having pavilions devoted to new technology and world cultures, was never sanctioned as a world's fair by the agency that does such things, the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) in Paris. Disney executives did keep the BIE apprised of their work but, as Jack Lindquist pointed out, any formal recognition of the exhibition would have violated nearly every provision in the BIE's treaty, "because it's permanent, and because it's being constructed by a private corporation." The 1964-65 New York World's Fair was not sanctioned as an official world's fair by the BIE because it lasted for two years.
Earth Station was supposed to be comparable to the Magic Kingdom's City Hall and CommuniCore was Main Street. The largest shop on Main Street U.S.A. was the Emporium. EPCOT Center was to signal the birth of a new century. An emporium for a new century is a Centorium, "the department store of tomorrow." A team of four buyers for the store spent two and a half years (totaling over 200,000 flight miles) combing the major markets and out of the way museum shops for thousands of merchandise items, including a solar powered flying saucer and a machine that plays chess with a robotic arm.
The tile mosaic surrounding the entrance to The Land covers 3,000 square feet, took three months to install and has 150,000 individually cut and shaped pieces made from nine basic materials—marble, granite, slate, Byzantine glass, Venetian glass, gold, mirror, ceramic and pebbles—in 131 colors. It was the work of Monika and Hanns Scharff.
According to a press release from the Bell System, Spaceship Earth weighed 16 million pounds and that was "more than three times the weight of the NASA space shuttle fully prepared for launch."
The WED one-eighth-inch scale model of EPCOT Center took up 1,428 square feet, as big as some American homes at the time. Its massive size was one of the reasons it was destroyed and never stored for future use.
There were plans to build a television studio at EPCOT Center "where we will have live audiences and be doing live television for cable," claimed Dick Nunis in an article in the October 24, 1982, edition of The Orlando Sentinel. "We don't have a date on it…but our top executives really want to go forward with it, so I'm sure we will do it." Nunis also pointed out that a part of the expansion plan was to extend the monorail system from EPCOT Center to Walt Disney World Village and adding a 600-room lo-rise Disney hotel at the Village that would have a New Orleans atmosphere.
"Our real competitor is three miles away. Epcot will be compared to and must be as good as the Magic Kingdom itself. Epcot will be as different from Disneyland as Disneyland was from the amusement parks of the past," stated Lindquist in spring 1981.
"EPCOT will be different because it represents an attempt to attract the audience we've never felt we impacted effectively, older people without children," Lindquist said. The expectation was that the park would eventually draw 1 million or 2 million people a year "in its own right" and would encourage the then-14 million people who came to Walt Disney World each year to stay longer and spend more. "One of the things that will mark EPCOT Center as adult-oriented is that it will be more complicated and take longer to absorb than anything at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The Land Pavilion might take up to four hours to work one's way through it," Lindquist added.
A Kodak ad appearing in magazines in 1980 proclaimed: "A very serious, very advanced engineering project is being built in Florida around these new Disney characters. Dreamkeeper and his pet dragon Figment." The picture was the maquette of Professor Marvel and his dragon from Tony Baxter's Discovery Bay project for Disneyland. Marvel wore a monocle and carried a cane. Yes, Dreamfinder was intended to be called "Dreamkeeper."
Naval architect Ben Ostlund, inspired by European cruise boats for tourists, joined with WED Enterprises and designed two glass-top water-taxis for the World Showcase Lagoon. The Friendship I and II were 66-feet long and took 18 months to construct and had no rudder and no reverse. Steering, stopping and reversing were accomplished by a propeller that rotated 360 degrees. They were built by the Walt Disney World Facilities Division and were used for transporting guests to various locations in Walt Disney World as a "shake down" period, and then given a new paint job and an overhaul for their EPCOT Center debut.
For the primeval diorama in the Universe of Energy, three men spent 5,700 hours in a Hollywood soundstage painting a backdrop 32-feet high and 515-feet long.
Spaceship Earth had a ride system that had a big problem at the bottom of the hill. The system to turn the cars back around was not strong enough to handle all the weight and pressure on it. So for several months there were Disney cast members there who physically made sure each car turned around properly and got slotted in. It was several months before a solution was engineered.
Did you know that EPCOT Center construction included moving 54 million cubic feet of earth? That's enough to fill the Super Dome in New Orleans to the top, with some left over for the parking lot.
"In one scene [of Spaceship Earth], for example, Michelangelo is painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel," said costuming supervisor Tom Pierce. "We could have been true to the colors of the time, clothing him in siennas and green, but he would have been lost and a statement would not have been made. So we've dressed him in a bright blue and the audience's attention is immediately drawn to him. We do research our designs thoroughly but let's not be slaves. We try to reflect the flavor of an era and if the public can identify a costume and says that it looks right, then we are right,"
On the roof of the Universe of Energy pavilion were 80,000 photovoltaic cells that could generate 70,000 watts of power to help power the show and ride systems. The building orientation was due south, and the modules were mounted in a fixed position tilted 30 degrees from the horizontal. "This was developed through an analysis of the position of the sun throughout the course of the year," said Mike McCullough, a WED engineer. "We came up with what we consider an optimum tilt angle for our conditions."
For Opening Day, October 1, 1982, hundreds of costumed cast members had to assemble in the main entrance area at 6 a.m. for photography sessions, live television coverage, as well as the opening activities. Official opening activities began at 9 a.m. Richard "Dick" Cason, his wife Paula and their children Jennifer, Chris, Ricky, and Jody were the official first family. For the opening festivities, 450 college musicians from every state formed the All-American College Marching Band. Rehearsals were conducted by Dr. Art Bartner, director of marching bands at USC.
EPCOT was meant to be the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. A Disney Company publication titled EPCOT Center: A Profile was given to cast members on September 6, 1982, in the hopes they would use it to inform guests about the new park. Vainly, the writers tried to make the connection that EPCOT Center was filled with communities: "Once the show has been written, the building designed and the technology assured, many more facets of operation must come into play. And, these varied 'communities' within EPCOT Center are as instrumental to its success as are the designs of the structures". There were four pages devoted to the "communities" of Food, Merchandise, Horticulture, Costuming and Entertainment.
Jack Muhs was the head of the costume design team for "developing this international family, who are hosts, hostesses and pageant performers for World Showcase. Each of the designs are carefully checked by John Hench, senior vice president of WED Enterprises, who must make sure each costume not only fits the setting, but plays a vital role in increasing the dramatic impact of each new show," according to EPCOT Center Today (Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter 1982).
Hench also supervised the costuming for each of the FutureWorld pavilions. "In this pavilion (The Land), we designed outfits for serving hostesses and busboys in a 1910 motif, a 1930s art deco look for ushers and usherettes in another area, contemporary overalls for our garden experts and futuristic outfits for still another group," claimed costuming supervisor Tom Peirce. With the exception of bright yellow and white food service staff clothing, navy and wine are consistent unifying colors in dress. This created a feeling of unity throughout The Land though costume design may vary drastically.
Over 1.5 million feet of film have been used to produce more than four hours of EPCOT Center shows. These motion picture films, totaling more than 73,000 feet of finished product, represent the work of 16 production crews in more than 30 countries and nearly every state in the USA.
Produced at costs exceeding $30 million, motion pictures for 31 different shows in Future World and World Showcase were filmed in 11 different formats including 35mm, 65mm, 70mm, 3-D, Circle-Vision 360, computer animation and laser graphics.
Those beautiful statues that look like marble in the Italy pavilion are hollow. Since they were so lightweight and liable to blow away during the slightest breeze, they were held in place with rods running from their base through the hollow center.
There were 10 WorldKey terminals in Earth Station with an additional 22 WorldKey satellites at other locations in Future World and World Showcase. Initially information was available in English and Spanish in October 1982 with plans to add French and German. Allowing guests to receive answers to all kinds of visitor convenience questions, the WorldKey terminal used 12-inch videodiscs to store millions of pieces of information, using motion pictures, slides, printed words and sound. A low-power laser beam controlled by a computer then read the disc which was whirling at 1,800 rpms and sends the information to the video terminals.
There were 272 benches located throughout EPCOT Center when it opened in October. There were plans to add an additional 186 benches before the end of the year.
CommuniCore and Journey Into Imagination were the areas most directly aimed at youngsters. However, the displays were too high for children under the height of 4 feet.
"We feel very strongly that Mickey's home is the Magic Kingdom," explained Paul Bellew, who directed merchandising at EPCOT Center, the Magic Kingdom, and the resorts. "EPCOT is more of an adult attraction. We think the audience mix may be a little different. We'll have Disney characters [in merchandise] but not necessarily the ones we've grown up with. Along with Figment, Disney is going to introduce a product line based on the Sperry Rand robot revue leader SMRT-1."
In most traditional construction projects, a building is given a "topping off" ceremony upon its completion and an American flag is set atop as proof that the job is done. However, the building of the Spaceship Earth Geosphere was essentially built from the top down so the construction crew had a "bottoming out" party and put the flag at the bottom of the sphere to mark its completion.
The Walt Disney World Monorail network was extended 7.5 miles to connect to EPCOT Center. A special casting process was developed for the 60 ton pre-stressed, steel-reinforced beams. In total, the construction crews cast and erected 3,325 piers and 405 beams.
The Canadian loggers' shirts would be too hot if made from a realistic flannel. To simulate an authentic look, a mock flannel was devised. The American Adventure costumes were actually made from decorating fabric because a colonial-style material couldn't be bought in the contemporary clothing market.
I hope some of these ancient "fun facts" have helped readers celebrate the 30th birthday of Walt Disney World's second theme park. There are more stories to tell about EPCOT Center in 1982 but in the coming weeks, I will be discussing other Disney topics equally as fascinating. Happy Birthday, Epcot!
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.