The Walt Disney World 30th Anniversary Trading Cards Story

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

How can you summarize 30 years of achievement at Walt Disney World in 50 sentences or less? Walt Disney World attempted to do that very task almost a decade ago.

The Disney management never fully understood the Disney guests’ fascination with collecting pins, nor their earlier eagerness to collect Disney theme park buttons of special events like holidays, promotions or anniversaries. Buttons and pins were inexpensive and usually with a little effort and ingenuity, Disney fans could locate ones for their collections at a reasonable enough price at various Disneyana collectible shows or by networking through fan organizations in the days before eBay.

However, Disney management did understand the economic benefits of pin collecting, and sought to tap into that collecting impulse by issuing coins (which Disney referred to as “medallions”) and trading cards. Those two collecting areas had always been popular with non-Disney fans, so it seemed like almost being given permission to print money (which the Disney Company also did with “Disney Dollars” that were initially very popular and profitable as collectibles).

There have been a variety of Disney-related trading card sets over the years, beginning in the 1930s from a number of companies. I think the first set to focus on a Disney theme park was a 66 card set released by Donruss in 1965 to celebrate the Tencennial of Disneyland. “Visit Disneyland in ’65. Celebrating its first fabulous decade” claimed the cards that could be purchased in packs for a nickel.

The cards featured scenes from the park and there were two variant sets. One had a “puzzle back” with the caption description on the front; the other had a blue back with the description on the back surrounded by a blue border. This latter set is more difficult to find, but much more appreciated because of the larger text free image on the front. (A complete near-mint blue back set sold a while ago for more than $2,000, so it would be nice to see a reprint edition out for this year’s Disneyland celebration or a book reprinting the images and captions. Individual cards are often sold in the range of $3 each or more.)

Unfortunately, while Disney fans today were casually interested in medallions and trading cards, they were not as fanatical as the pin collectors and those two other merchandise initiatives eventually faded away. It seemed as if pin collecting was just an unexplainable aberration…until the recent introduction of Vinylmation that seems to have captured the same frenzy. My relatives from Australia just visited and while they had never heard of Vinylmation before, my cousin caught the fever and, on the way to the airport, I had to drop her off at Downtown Disney for one more opportunity to purchase several boxes in hopes of getting the one figure she desperately wanted. Making life way too interesting for me, that figure was fortunately in the very last box she opened.

In 2001, the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was celebrating its 30th Anniversary and the Disney Design Group helped develop products specifically for that event. One of the items that they developed was 31 trading cards (one card commemorating each year plus one extra focusing on concept art for Cinderella’s Castle only available in the collector’s tin)

The cards were sold in individual packs of five cards for $3 in the hopes that guests would buy multiple packs to complete a full set. There were even card-trading locations set up in the parks to aid guests in completing a full set, but there was scant interest. For those not interested in the thrill of the hunt, there was a blue collector’s tin for $30 in an edition size limited to 5,000 that included all 30 cards—plus one extra card for Cinderella’s castle.

While the cards were well done with the quality expected of Disney and fairly affordable, they sparked no furor among collectors and, after the celebration, the remaining limited-edition collectible tin sets were discounted to $15 and sold in the Florida Disney outlet stores until they disappeared within a few weeks at that price.

As they had done on other merchandise projects, the Disney Design Group contacted Disney historian Jim Korkis for help in providing the text for the back of the cards and for suggestions as to what event to spotlight each year. Korkis had the challenge of filling the most information he could in the smallest of possible spaces, no more than one or two short sentences.

An additional challenge was that some years were filled with several important milestones, so selecting one to balance the images in the rest of the set was difficult. However, in some years, nothing of major significance stood out so there was the struggle to find something to showcase that would be visual.

To make matters even more interesting, Korkis was contacted on May 18, 2001 and given a week deadline (with the notation that they would appreciate receiving the text even sooner if possible) to research, confirm facts and write the descriptions for the back of the cards since the project was already near the final deadline. Korkis beat the deadline despite working full-time at another job.

The front of the card was a photo of the location or event and, in the lower corner, rotated a cartoon image one of the Fab Four (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy) all carrying presents.

Of course, the text had to go through approval of the Disney Archives, Disney Legal and Disney Merchandising for accuracy, nomenclature and appropriateness. Amazingly, only minimal changes were made in Korkis' originally submitted text including the removal of proper names of non-Disney employees, the dropping of an occasional adjective for reasons of length, and, a few times, editing one long sentence into two shorter ones.

For those who never purchased or even knew of the set, here is the complete text for those cards, in addition to some of the extra suggestions that Korkis made. There are no plans for an updated set of cards for the upcoming 35th anniversary in 2011. For Disneyland’s 55th anniversary this year, there is a park-exclusive book, authored by Jeff Kurtti, titled Disneyland Through the Decades. It would be nice to have a similar volume for Walt Disney World’s 35th to expand on the short descriptions on this card set.


The Magic Kingdom theme park officially opens on October 1, but is not formally dedicated by Roy O. Disney until a ceremony on October 25. By mid-November, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground are in full operation.


Walt Disney World expands its Mark IV fleet with monorail trains designed specifically for the resort. The most heavily traveled passenger monorail system in the world that transports millions of passengers annually at speeds of up to 45 mph.


The last attraction to be personally supervised by Walt Disney, Pirates of the Caribbean opens December 15, but with significant variations from its Disneyland counterpart. The attraction replaces the proposed Western River Expedition also designed by Imagineer Marc Davis.


Opened on November 28, the StarJets are a visual icon for Tomorrowland as they circle at heights of up to 80 feet above the ground. The central pylon patterned after a Saturn V rocket remains for nearly two decades before being replaced by the Astro Orbiter in 1994.


Two-thousand uniformed band musicians play at the opening of Space Mountain on January 15 as NASA astronauts inaugurate through the first cosmic voyage inside the almost 200-foot-high structure designed by Imagineer John Hench.


Disney’s first water park, Disney’s River Country is dedicated on June 20. The park recreates the old-fashioned swimming hole from the time of Mark Twain with 8,500 gallons of water per minute providing water flowing through the flumes.


The Main Street Electrical Parade debuts June 11 at the Magic Kingdom Park and will delight audiences nightly until September 1991, when it relocates to Disneyland Paris. The parade’s creation was inspired by The Electrical Water Pageant on the Seven Seas Lagoon which has run continuously since October 1971.


The Magic Kingdom joined a very special world-wide, year-long celebration with the daily Mickey Mouse 50th Birthday Parade. Mickey was also honored at the park on November 18 and 19 with a star-studded birthday party. (On this card, Disney Design Group was unable to locate any image of the celebration, so Korkis lent from his own collection the official artwork that featured the number 50 and inside various images of Mickey at different stages of his animated career.)


Walt Disney’s ultimate dream finally takes its first step to becoming a reality at the groundbreaking ceremonies on October 1st for the newly announced EPCOT Center, the largest private construction project in the world.

Korkis offered two other options that were not selected:

Option One: Hundreds of celebrities, royalty and heads of state including every president of the United States have visited Walt Disney World Resort since its opening. This year former President Gerald Ford shared in the Disney magic.

Option Two: Magic Kingdom welcomed its 100-millionth visitor only eight years after opening on October 22. It was 8 year old Kurt Miller from Kingsville, Md. Disneyland welcomed its 100 millionth guest on June 17, 1971 more than 16 years after opening. (The guest was 22-year-old Valerie Suldo from New Brunswick, N.J.).

The other two options were not considered because of the use of non-Disney employee names and the fear of having to get approval to use those names, which is why in the earlier cards the NASA astronauts were not identified by name, nor the fact that Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, dedicated River Country.


Genuine antique mining equipment scattered throughout a Monument Valley landscape provides a backdrop as a runaway mine train whisks unsuspecting passengers through a wild Gold Rush adventure when Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has its grand opening November 15.


Six-hundred press guests from coast-to-coast wore Mickey Mouse hats with silver ears on Main Street as celebrities help kick off the year-long Tencennial Celebration at the Magic Kingdom Park.


EPCOT Center officially opens October 1 with more than 100 television crews broadcasting the event. This park, representing Walt’s passionate interest in new technology and world culture, is formally dedicated on October 24 with Mrs. Lillian Disney in attendance.


Marching toy soldiers, dancing reindeer, Santa Goofy and the holiday spirit of a Victorian decorated Main Street at the Magic Kingdom are seen in homes nationwide during the first telecast of Walt Disney World's Very Merry Christmas Parade.


For the first time, a WDW park attraction is temporarily re-themed when Country Bear Jamboree Christmas Special debuts December 19 and becomes a seasonal favorite. Eighteen audio-animatronic bruins costumed for a backwoods Christmas sing new holiday songs.

Another option:

The Magic Kingdom joined a very special, world-wide, year-long celebration with a daily birthday parade for Donald Duck which included an entourage of live Peking ducks in party hats and a new song, “Happy, Happy Birthday, Donald.”


Tinkerbell soars down from the highest spire of Cinderella’s Castle as fireworks burst overhead in a rainbow of color synchronized to classic Disney music when Fantasy in the Sky debuts on July 3. (This card featured Tinker Bell on the front corner rather than one of the Fab Four.)


Accredited by the American Zoological Association and planned as one of the original pavilions at EPCOT, the Living Seas opens January 15. Guests descend into Sea Base Alpha to see the world’s largest man-made ocean environment filled with thousands of sea creatures.


The All-America Parade debuts in the Magic Kingdom Park to honor the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. The largest parade in the park's history featured the world's largest free-flying American flag which was raised by helicopter behind Cinderella Castle.


The skies above World Showcase Lagoon transform into a musical, colorful kaleidoscope of synchronized lights, laser beams, water fountains and fireworks surrounded by the pin-lighted outlines of the country pavilions when the first version of Illuminations premieres on January 30.

Another option:

The last new country pavilion to open at World Showcase in the 20th century, the Norway Pavilion debuts on May 6 featuring a 14th Century fortress patterned after Oslo’s Akershus, a stave church which displays Norwegian artifacts, and a thrilling voyage through the Maelstrom.


The Disney-MGM Studios, which opens May 1 with an hour-long Busby Berkeley style extravaganza, began as a concept for a “Movie Pavilion” at EPCOT but Disney Chairman Michael Eisner expanded that concept into Walt Disney World’s third theme park, devoted to the Hollywood that never was but always will be.


Official dedication of the Star Tours attraction takes place January 13 at the Disney-MGM Studios. Michael Eisner and stars from the film meander through the Ewok treetop village to board the flight to Endor which utilizes flight-simulation technology.


Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage debuts at the Disney-MGM Studios on the same day the animated classic has its general release on November 22. This was the first time the debut of a stage show coincided with the opening of the movie that inspired it. (Its success inspires the creation of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.)


Inspired by the Brer Rabbit stories from Disney’s Song of the South feature, Splash Mountain opens with a splash on July 17 and sends guests plunging more than five stories down the steepest water flume drop in the world.


Reinforcing Walt Disney World Resort’s commitment to the environment, the Disney Wilderness Preserve, a 8,500 acre section of property devoted to maintaining the native plant and animal life of Florida is officially dedicated on April 23.

Other options:

Option One: Guests get an opportunity to enjoy more of “the Hollywood that never was but always will be” with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios Backlot and its classic television and movie production sets.

Option Two: The Disney/MGM Studios hosts the official dedication on November 20 of the Academy of Television Arts and Science’s Hall of Fame Plaza which features a bust of honored inductee Walt Disney.

Option Three: The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom reopens after a major renovation which includes U.S. President Bill Clinton getting a speaking role and new narration from poet Maya Angelou.

Option Four: At the Magic Kingdom, the Carousel of Progress reopens after a major renovation on November 18 with the original theme song, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as a tribute to Walt Disney’s original vision for the attraction.


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is inspired by the classic television program. The tallest attraction on Walt Disney World property plunges guests a gravity-defying 13 stories in a runaway service elevator when it opens July 22.


Opening on April Fool’s Day, Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park is a ski resort built during a freak snowstorm, but the Florida heat turns it into a water park with Summit Plummet becoming the world’s tallest, fastest water speed slide in the world.


The Walt Disney World Resort celebrates its 25th anniversary by transforming Cinderella Castle with 400 gallons of pink paint into a gigantic birthday cake. Millions of returning guests “Remember the Magic” the first parade which includes active guest participation.


Celebrating its grand opening March 28 with an exhibition baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds, Disney’s Wide World of Sports is a complex devoted to over two dozen different individual and team sports with professional training and competition sites.


The 14-story-high Tree of Life, with more than 300 carved animal images, towers over Disney’s largest theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom which officially opens April 22. The park is dedicated to helping guests share a greater appreciation of over 1,000 real and extinct animals.


The Disney Wonder launches on her maiden voyage on August 15, joining the Disney Magic ship which launched on July 30, 1998. The vessels recapture the romance and grandeur of the great ocean liners of legend.


EPCOT and the Walt Disney World Resort celebrate the future hand in hand with a 15-month-long Millennium Celebration. The Tapestry of Nations parade, Illuminations 2000 and the Millennium Village all share with guests the concept of a world without borders.


Designed by the architect of the Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge showcases the wonder and spirit of Africa with more than 200 exotic animals wandering a 33-acre Savannah surrounding the resort.

CINDERELLA CASTLE CONCEPT CARD (Special card for complete collection)

Inspired by several French castles as well as the animated classic, Imagineer Herb Ryman produced a concept painting of Cinderella Castle as he had done for Disneyland’s castle. It took 18 months and more than 600 tons of steel to build one of the most photographed locations in the world. (Originally this card was to feature the blueprints for the castle but the final card showed the Ryman painting.)