They Had No Guarantee This Would Work

Forrest Bahruth stands on Main Street in front of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Bahruth has been working at Disney since the opening day in 1971. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

There was no way to know if Disney World would be a success 50 years ago. Walt Disney, the legendary animator and entrepreneur who gave his name to the Florida park, had died just a year after proposing “the East Coast Disneyland.” The firm had bought 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of rough land outside Orlando using phony names and shell corporations for roughly $5 million.

Roy Disney, the project’s main advocate and brother of Walt, rallied other company executives to persuade the Florida Legislature to establish a somewhat autonomous agency that would allow Disney to self-govern in such areas as infrastructure and planning. Roy died just three months after opening day.