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A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise

Steven Miller

by , Manager, External Affairs

A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise

With the 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World Resort on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the early merchandise from the 1970s. You may recall that I enjoy collecting merchandise from the early days, particularly from EPCOT Center. My fellow Disney Parks Blog author Jennifer Fickley-Baker put me in contact with Steven Vagnini (extra points for the awesome first name), who is an archivist with The Walt Disney Archives in Burbank, California. I recall the day that Steven sent these images – opening that message was one of those extra magical moments in my Disney career. I think it was the colors or the designs that transported me to another time and place. I spoke with Steven via the telephone to discuss the items and his role with the Archives.

A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise

“The Archives was founded in 1970 by Dave Smith,” explained Steven. “This was just ahead of the opening of Walt Disney World Resort. So Dave was lucky to collect a good sample of items from the early days of The Florida Project.”

Steven began his Disney career in Florida at Pirates of the Caribbean in 2005. He worked with Y.E.S. Programs and with Guest Relations before making the move to the Archives in California. I enjoyed our conversation as he, too, has such a passion for Disney. Steven explained that limited space is one reason why they seek to collect a representative sample of items.

“While we don’t have one of every Disney merchandise item ever produced, we have licensee files and catalogs that provide a wealth of information,” continued Steven. “Of course, it is important for us to collect physical samples. A variety of departments, including Disney Consumer Products and Disney Theme Park Merchandise, has often used them for reference and have found great value in them.”

A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise

Steven and I discussed the images he shared with me.

“Some of the items were once on display at the One Man’s Dream attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” said Steven. “One of my favorite items is the bag as the iconography and colors scream 1970s [laughs]. I also like the thermometer as it is a merchandise item you don’t see at Disney Parks today.”

Another item not seen today is the oil lamp with pink accents (Jennifer and I had a good laugh over that one).

A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise

You may notice the name “Walt Disney Productions” on the items. That was the corporate name used on merchandise until February 6, 1986, when it was changed to The Walt Disney Company. When I find items for my personal collection, I look for the “Walt Disney Productions” namedrop (which usually means I’m taking the item home).

I asked Steven if he had any favorite memories from visiting Walt Disney World Resort as a child.

“I recall ‘flying’ in the now closed If You Could Fly attraction in Tomorrowland,” reminisced Steven. “I remember experiencing one of my favorites, the Carousel of Progress, but I admit I was a bit drowsy; I was probably only one and a half years old at the time. Finally, I loved the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown!”

Here are a few additional images of some early merchandise that hopefully take you on a trip down memory lane. Happy 40th Anniversary to the “Vacation Kingdom of the World!”

A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise A Look Back at Early Walt Disney World Resort Merchandise


  • The brown mug pictured above, we still have one! Love it.

  • I wished they would bring that D with the eared globe back into use again. I remember drawing it a lot as a child and loving it.

  • What a great selection of WDW history! As a collector of early WDW memorabilia, I was thrilled to see that I have half of the items you have shared. Can’t wait to find the rest!

  • I went to the link you mentioned with “The Florida Project” you posted October 12th last year. I love looking at this retro stuff. I actually have two Polynesian Resort tiki glasses that you pictured. I used them just a couple weeks ago!

  • Steve thanks for this Great article about Walt Disney Merchandise.In 1973 as a young boy I got the chance to go to Walt Disney World (Thanks to my Mom and Dad)- I was hooked on Mickey.Many trips later(honeymoon,25th Anniversary,son coming home from Iraq,this October for my 33 Anniversary and many trips in between).About 12 years ago I got my first Mickey bank – fast forward to now and 105 Mickey banks later (thought it would be easy to collect them all – LOL).Whats great about collecting banks is seeing how Mickey has changed,how far Mickey has spead,by the different Contries that have produced banks.The different mediums used to make banks-tin,castiron,wood,composite,leather covered,glass,ceramic,china,plaster,vinyl,plastic,PVC and rubber to name a few.The colorfulness of each bank and that ever present smile.My favorate banks (have about 15)are from the 1930`s – showing how the original Mickey looked.Just wondering if you have or will you ever do a article about the very old Mickey merchandise?

  • Steven, fantastic post! I am friends with Mr. Steven Vagnini, he’s a great guy.

    I actually own the fluted plate and the white Mickey Mouse “bowling bag” thats in one of the bottom pictures. I’ll be carrying it around with me this Saturday! I hope to run into you on Saturday morning, it would be a pleasure to shake hands with someone who also shares the same vintage WDW favorites! 🙂

    (Also, I’d love to see the idea of a retro merchandise store come to fruition… 😉 Its a dream project of mine.)

  • @Steven – Thanks for the additional information on the the ruffled dishes! I checked the two in my collection and it turns out that I have both the blue & white, and the black & gold versions.

  • @Kenny and Eric – You named some of my favorites! I recall seeing them on the Disney Channel – the EPCOT Center Grand opening special is amazing as is The Magic of Walt Disney World from 1972. I spoke with the product developer for media. She said she has not heard of plans to release those films. Sorry.

  • Someone mentioned something about river country, I would want to see more product on that water park in particular and all the other water parks which the shirts are quite lacking.

    Also, some more product for splash mountain and big thunder railroad mountain!

  • A great article once again, I especially like the badge and the license plate, hey will there be any retro looking t-shirts coming out for the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World with the characters and special slogans. Those t-shirts for me are a must buy, because when I went in June of this year, I saw alot of merchandise with slogan t-shirts especially the shirt with the turkey leg you were sporting in an article you wrote about food.

    As a fan, I wish you were more involved on property. I would like to see you somewhere around the park someday. But I think that your position wont allow you to do that as you used to before :/. However, its great that too see articles like this!!!

  • Great post, as I look at your photos I compare these items to some of my own here in my “Mickey room”. I love old WDW souvenirs, I even like the old shopping bags that items came in when i am lucky enough to happen on one of those. It’s great when these old designs get referenced in new retro merchandise , like how the logo for the recent “Florida project” merchandise event was developed from an old shopping bag design.

  • I have that candy dish! (The one in the bottom right corner of the picture that’s at the bottom left of the post.) I found it at a thrift store here in Tallahassee a few months ago. I love trying to hunt down these old items. They look great in our house, which has a mid-century feel to it.

  • @ Kenny – Oh, the old “Wonderful World” WDW opening day special–
    We fans had been nagging Leonard Maltin for years about whether we’d get one more Disney Treasures DVD set of the WDW Grand Opening, the Epcot opening special, the one with the 70’s Mickey Mouse Club kids opening River Country, and the old 1971 promotional film that used to be shown at the Visitor’s Center….Will it ever happen now? 🙁

  • @Steven Miller- I stand corrected…I never knew it as “If You Could Fly!” I’ve been every year since 1972, and I didn’t remember that-maybe I blocked it out for love of IYHW! FYI, there’s a full-ride video posted on Youtube…as a matter of fact, something you may enjoy, if you haven’t seen it, is the original “Wonderful World of Disney” T.V. special that featured the Grand Opening of WDW. It’s shocking how different things are now, but it brings back great memories!

  • The Dumbo character pictured in the postcard is adorable! I had no idea there was ever a costumed Dumbo character on property. Thank you for sharing these images with us.

  • The plate in the first picture, white with blue print ~ I have that! I believe my grandmother got it! It is a treasure of mine!!

  • Fantastic post Steven & Steven! 😉 I really like the old balloon design, I really wish we would see more of that. All these items are pretty incredible – wish I had some original 1971 items myself. All this also reminds me how much I love the old Walt Disney World logo – really happy to see that on so much merchandise nowadays!

    Steven, any chance you’ll be in the park later on October 1st? Would be fantastic if you could stop by the WDW Retro Meet at Sunshine Tree Terrace (5:30pm)! We’re all going to be dressed up in 1970’s style clothing. Should be lots of fun and a great throw back to 1971!

    -Travis M
    Discussion Kingdom/Retro Day WDW

    • @Sandra – That’s great! I use some of mine to hold matchbooks. And how I would love to have that tote!

      @Travis – Thanks for the comments! I’m glad you liked the post; I had fun writing it. I will be at Magic Kingdom on October 1, but pretty early in the morning. Thank you for the invite – I’ll try to stop by (though I’ve retired most of my polyester). LOL!

  • Epcot CENTER? If You Had Wings? The Nautilus? Alice from the Mickey Mouse Revue?
    Ack!–What’s with all the 70’s posts lately? I know Disney’s been on a “Memories” campaign, but are you trying to torture us old-school fans with attractions we’ve missed all these years? 😉

  • I have a few of those items in the pictures. I use the Cinderella Castle ashtray as a pin-tray now. LOL. I got the Mickey Mouse white tote from our travel agent and I think my Dad used it to carry his golf shoes the first time we went to WDW.

  • @ Eric, what a great idea! I would LOVE a retro merchandise store, how fun! I still have the Walt Disney World juice cups my mom bought for me and my sisters from the early 80s. My daughter and I use them almost every day 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing these early collectibles with us. I have a question about one of the items in the bottom left photo. Can you tell us a little more about the wavy-edged circular plate in the bottom right of that photo (what it is, when it was sold, etc.)? I picked up two of them at a yard sale a couple of months ago but can’t find any information on them. Thanks!

    • @Michael – Great question! I own that ruffled glass dish. I’ve seen a few different variations of it – the one pictured above and a black with gold print version. It was originally packaged in a similar box as seen in the image with the license plate (the white variation of that tray is pictured in the same photo as the ruffled glass dish).

      I’ve seen the ruffled glass dish packaged with a sticker that said, “A Gift of Glass from Walt Disney World.” I’ve also seen Disneyland versions of this item.

      From what I’ve discovered, it was made by now closed Houze Art of Point Marion, PA. I believe they also made those smaller gift trays (as the packaging is exactly the same). The Disneyland version I’ve seen had a “Houze Art” stamp on the bottom of the dish.

  • Loving these posts about retro Walt Disney World!! Keep up the good work guys & girls!! 🙂

  • I LOVE this! I have some of the items featured here and still have my first Donald Duck doll 🙂

  • I actually have one of the tote bags that you show here. Do you know what year they made these.

  • I’m so sorry to have to make a minor correction, but my favorite WDW attraction was called, “If You Had Wings,’ presented by Eastern Airlines (also no longer…). I have a few things at home from that era (not Opening Day, but the mid-70’s) as well, including a couple of hats and collectable spoons. My autograph book from my childhood had the original WDW logo on it as well, though it’s well used!

    • @Kenny – Ah, you are a fan of “If You Had Wings” too!? Awesome! There was a short two year run for “If You Could Fly” (1987-1989) after Eastern Airlines dropped sponsorship of the original attraction. It later became Dreamflight and is now home to Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. I’m a little obsessed with those attractions as they were my favorites as a child. I even made a Hidden Mickey pin a few years ago that featured the bird logo from the end of “If You Could Fly.” I’d love to see that autograph book – I can imagine it has some good memories.

  • Darren – I remember the Tobacconist on Main Street (note the cigar store Indian that is a visual reminder), and in fact, one of my favorite collectibles is a wooden cigar box with the Walt Disney World logo branded on the sliding cover!

    Lou M
    WDW Radio

    • @Eric – I’d be first in line! 🙂

      @Lou – Thank you! Great to hear from you. Hope to see you on October 1. I’ll be there pretty early in the morning. I recall that wooden cigar box too. Wish I had it in my collection. I do have several other ashtrays (though I do not smoke). I just like the designs, images and colors used on them. I recently acquired an incredible brown and orange wavy dish that I believe was made by the same company who made the brown mug pictured above. It’s right next to my Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily Contemporary Resort inspired vase they created for the 40th Anniversary. So 70s!!

  • I find the ash tray and bottle opener especially interesting – they speak of a different time. Remember the Main Street Tobacconist?

  • Great post!!! Thanks!!

  • Love this post!! Opening year (and even some pre-opening ephemera) are my favorite things to collect! I can thank my parents for taking me in November, 1971 and starting my love of Disney very early on. Better yet, I am grateful that they kept many of the souvenirs we purchased (high on a shelf out of my reach) so that they sit on my office shelves or walls today! Thanks for sharing these simple treasures from the Archives

    Lou M.
    WDW Radio

  • I wish they would have a retro store in WDW that sold early merchandise. That would be so cool.

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