Happy 40th, Walt Disney World

Detail of the Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland, Walt Disney World


Walt Disney World opened forty years ago on October 1, 1971, in Orlando, Florida. The dream of Walter Elias Disney, it created a city out of orange groves and swamps. The new park dwarfed Disneyland, which opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California. Disney died in 1966 and did not witness the culmination of his Orlando dream, but his brother Roy named the new park Walt Disney World in his honor, according to the Walt Disney Company website. Read about the making of Disney and Orlando in the National Geographic magazine.

“If it weren’t for Disney, the local saying goes, the Orlando region would be called Ocala, a rival town up the road,” reports T. D. Allman in Orlando: Beyond Disney (March 2007). Allman explores the concept of a theme-park nation and how Disney’s utopian dream convinced America to vacation and live in a buggy, swampy area still officially called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Photo gallery by David Burnett.

Want to head a little further back in the Disney timeline? Find a copy of the August 1963 National Geographic magazine and read The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney, by Robert de Roos. He recounts the early days of Walt, the birth of Mickey Mouse, and the creation of an empire. Archival photos include Walt at 16 as an ambulance driver in France just after World War I (check out the cartoon he drew on his ambulance canvas), Hayley Mills acting in a Disney film, and Mickey as Steamboat Willie. Photos by Thomas Nebbia include Walt’s never-before-photographed secret apartment in the firehouse in Disneyland, and the 72-year-old Tinker Bell who soared each night over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

For old issues you can check your local library or purchase the Complete National Geographic on DVD or hard drive.

Human Journey