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Today in Disney History: Disney Broke Ground On Walt Disney World Resort 45 Years Ago

Jennifer Fickley-Baker

by , Editorial Content Manager, Walt Disney World Resort

I love writing posts about Disney history and the milestone I get to celebrate today is no exception. Exactly 45 years ago, on May 30, 1967, the first ground was broken for the construction of the Walt Disney World Resort.


I really wanted to share a photo of this milestone, so I partnered with fellow Disney Parks Blog Author Nate Rasmussen and the Disney Archives to try to track some down. I’ve always been told this part of Central Florida was pretty sparse before Disney moved in, and the photos we found proved just that – miles of nothing but trees and lakes.

During our search, Nate and I found that some of the first compelling photos that exist of Walt Disney World Resort’s pre-opening were actually produced two years later, in April 1969, during a press event that gave locals their first look at what Walt Disney World Resort would be.


This “first look” took place at the Ramada Inn Tower in Ocoee, Fla. Here, invited guests could explore a tent full of scale models of Walt Disney World Resort, as well as artwork and Audio-Animatronics figures. (Oh, if us bloggers had a time machine!).


Disney leaders who spoke – and even signed autographs – at the event were what we’d consider today to be a real “who’s who” of Disney history, including Roy O. Disney, John Hench, Charlie Ridgway, Donn Tatum and Card Walker, many of whom later achieved Disney Legend status. During the event, they announced Oct. 1, 1971 as Walt Disney World Resort’s opening date, and declared that construction was officially beginning on Magic Kingdom Park and the first hotels (1967 construction included necessary roadwork and utilities).

At the event, Roy O. Disney also expressed joy in overseeing Walt’s dream of bringing a second Disney theme park to life:

“You should know that the dedication of our staff to Walt’s goals is tremendous. And I know Walt would like what his creative team is doing because these are the ideas and plans he began. Everything you will see here today is something Walt worked on and began in some way. And today, the Walt Disney organization is dedicated to carrying out these wonderful plans in Walt Disney World.”


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The event’s attendees also watched a 17-minute film called “Walt Disney World – Phase 1” at the nearby Parkwood Cinema Theater. Later on, they loaded onto buses for a trip to the Walt Disney World site. At the time, Seven Seas Lagoon was still only a dry lakebed.


  • What a great post! I just recently read “Project: Future” about the process of selecting a site for Walt Disney World, plus all of the work involved in acquiring the land and working with the Florida state government to make Walt Disney’s dream a reality. Wonderful to see some of the photos that help tell the story.

    • Thanks so much!

  • I found a PDF of the booklet online by searching google for “A Complete Edition About Walt Disney World”

  • Mark, Donald and Jenn,

    The octagonal resort on the cover of the book is indeed the Persian. The Asian resort was to be built where the Grand Floridan now stands (which is why the road was called Asian Way before it became Floridian Way), and the Venetian was to be on the shore of Seven Seas Lagoon across the water bridge from the Contemporary.


    You’re correct. While Roy E. Disney and his mother (Edna) and aunt (Lillian) have been inducted as Disney Legends, his father (Roy O.) and uncle (Walt) have not. I’m guessing that it was considered unnecessary to induct the company’s founders as Disney Legends.


  • Disney was educated after opening Disneyland in California and all the expansion space was bought up for hotels and other services by developers. He came to Florida looking for a very large,sparsely populated,cheap land that could be bought up by several Disney created realty companies. The strategy worked and The Disney Resort complex is the very successful product of his planning. It’s too bad he did not live to see his vision become a reality.

  • Thanks Jennifer. Such joy it gives me to know that WDW was started on the day I was born. What joy. What a beautiful surprise.

    And so ironic because I’m forever saying “it’s not Disney as in characters, movies, parks etc for me – it’s the land – The place – I could stare at a WDW map for ages.” Even when I’m there – it’s always been the land/development as a whole for me. Trumps everything.

    • What a fun coincidence!

  • Those were some fantastic pictures, especially the one of John Hench signing autographs!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Roy O. Disney has not been named a Disney Legend. Roy E. Disney was named a Disney Legend in 1998.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! It has solved a mystery that has been bugging me for awhile. A couple of years ago I ran across a copy of the “Complete Edition of WDW” booklet at a Disneyana Fan Club Show and Sale in California. It looked interesting and was reasonably priced, so, being a Disney parks history buff I bought it. Because it was copyrighted 1969 I thought it was too early to have been the booklet sold in the WDW Preview Center. When I obtained the D23 40th anniversary reproduction of the Preview Center booklet, I confirmed that that booklet was indeed different. So, I have been wondering all this time what the “Complete Edition” booklet was produced for. Now I know and I am thrilled to pieces to know that I have a wonderful early piece of WDW memorabilia! It has some very interesting insight into early plans for WDW. Thanks again! I can never get too much Disney parks history, especially lesser known things like this preview event. So, keep those kinds of posts coming!

    To answer question number 17, there were several hotels in the early plans such as a Persion one and a Venetian one, that ended up never being built. The structure you asked about is probably one of them. The booklet has further conceptual artist depictions of those inside of it that are very interesting.

    • Very cool. Thanks for sharing your story, Donald. Keep that book safe!

  • Question:
    On the “Complete Edition of Walt Disney World” cover shown above, what is the building in the shape of an octagon to the right of the Contemporary Resort? It looks like the monorail runs by it too. It doesn’t look familiar, but maybe I’m wrong.

  • I LOVE it! I was there in December of 1971, and have been at least once a year since then. Now my GRANDCHILDREN love WDW as much as I do!

  • I wish I knew where the model of Walt Disney World is today. I would love to see it up close.

  • Dear Ms. Fickley-Baker,

    Thank you for posting this very interesting and informative blog on my most Magical Place on Earth and the place that transformed my family’s life forever.

    Thank you Walt Disney!


    • Thank you, Jackie. And please always call me Jenn. 🙂

  • The “A Complete Edition About Walt Disney World” pamphlet is very cool to see. As said above there are some things that never were. The Monorail going through Tomorrowland, the Persian Resort, and the lagoon within Tomorrowland were just a few things that would have been a cool edition to WDW.

    Hope to see more historical Disney pictures!

  • Jennifer, are any copies of the booklet available? Would love to get a copy of that one. I was at WDW in January of ’72 and have always been interested in the history of the park(s). If there is not a copy for sale, are you able to post any more photos out of it?

  • Thank you for looking and sharing.

  • My goal is to find that pamphlet the complete edition about Walt Disny World! I love reading about the parks history and that would be so cool!

    • Jennifer – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on Ebay. You could try that.

  • Also, why am I coming up as anonymous? Does anyone know a way to have my name listed?

  • I only see 8 pictures. Are there more? Where is the picture of the monorail going through Tomorrowland.

  • Are there more pictures? I only see 8 all together?

    • No, just a handful.

  • That’s a cool picture showing the Persian Resort north of the Contemporary and the monorail going through Tomorrowland.

  • Please post more pics!!

  • Is the video that they were shown available for people see now?

    • It is not. Our library here does not have a copy, either – I asked. That would have been amazing to share.

  • The vision Walt Disney & these other guys had in this era is absolutely amazing. Real estate development has always been about risk & timing, & I’m blown away by the anxiety & pressure they must have felt by taking on such a huge project! The tiny projects I do keep me up at night & I can only imagine how stressed they were! It sure paid off! My family enjoys the WDW Resort so much! Thanks for taking the risks!

    • Can you imagine – turning nothing but miles of trees and lakes into a vacation destination in just a few years.

  • Thank you for posting this. I am a born and raised Central Floridian. Although I am too young to have been around during these days I grew up hearing stories from my parents about pre-Disney Orlando. Like many other Disney Blog readers, I am a Disney history buff and would have loved to meet all of the Disney Legends present at this event.
    My mother tells me stories all the time about what it was like during those planning days. I love my hometown and love seeing these historical photos. Thank you for sharing these photos.

    • Thank you! I love these pics and am happy to share them!

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. It must have been incredibly exciting to be in Central Florida during that time. I am sure Walt Disney World has since surpassed the wildest dreams of anyone there 45 years ago…

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