THE ONLY THINK TANK CREATED BY WALT HIMSELF
“We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting. We call Imagineering the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.” – Walt Disney
May – Walt Disney Imagineering, in collaboration with Lucasfilm Story Group, reveals its most immersive and expansive themed-lands to date with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, developed within Disneyland Park at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. Both lands invite guests to explore the planet of Batuu, located within the Outer Rim of the Unknown Regions, and feature iconic locations such as Black Spire Outpost, Oga’s Cantina, Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, and Droid Depot. Two attractions will call this land their home: Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — a simulator ride in which guests pilot the Millennium Falcon — and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — a thrilling adventure in which guests are drawn into a battle between the First Order and the Resistance.
March – Located at Hong Kong Disneyland in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Science and Technology Pavilion, a newly opened facility at Stark Expo in Tomorrowland, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Nano Battle!, combines thrilling storytelling with cutting-edge scenic illusion technology and an interactive gaming system. This epic experience puts guests in the middle of the action alongside Ant-Man and The Wasp.
BUILDING ON A HISTORY OF FIRSTS
LATE 1940S TO EARLY 1950S
When Walt Disney’s two daughters were young, he lamented the lack of appropriate destinations to take them on weekend outings. Recalling the pristine amusement parks he had visited across Europe, Walt begins to envision a place “where the parents and the children can have fun together” and eyes Southern California as a location for his family-oriented vacation destination.
March – Plans are revealed for a 16-acre family park to be built adjacent to The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., but Walt soon realizes his ideas are too grand for this small site. He begins to assemble a team to help him plan, design and build his dream — which he decides to call Disneyland.
December – As plans for the park grow, Walt and his brother Roy set up a separate entity called Walt Disney, Inc. to keep the development of Disneyland distinct from the studio business. This is the origin of Walt Disney Imagineering.
March – Walt Disney, Inc. becomes WED Enterprises after the initials of Walt’s name — Walter Elias Disney.
July – Walt enlists a research firm to determine the best Southern California site for his park. After considering population trends and future freeway routes, the company recommends a 160-acre site in the small, orange-growing town of Anaheim, about 35 miles southeast of Burbank.
September – Walt recruits artist Herbert Ryman to create an aerial rendering of Disneyland. Roy Disney uses the drawing to attract investors that include the fledgling ABC television network, which agrees to provide financing in exchange for a weekly Disney series. The original rendering exists today in the Walt Disney Imagineering archives, where it’s considered the most important piece of art in the collection.
April – Plans for the Disneyland park and TV show are officially announced.
July – Ground is broken for Disneyland in Anaheim.
October – The Disneyland series debuts on ABC with an episode called “The Disneyland Story,” featuring Walt discussing the history of Mickey Mouse and providing a sneak peek at the plans for Disneyland, including an overall rendering of the park painted by movie background artist Peter Ellenshaw.
July – After a year of construction, Disneyland opens with a gala celebration for 10,000 invited guests. The live ABC telecast draws 90 million viewers, the largest audience to have ever tuned into a single program at that time.
September – Within seven weeks of grand opening, Disneyland welcomes its one millionth guest.
June – Following incremental changes, the first major expansion of Disneyland introduces three attractions: the first daily operating monorail system in the Western Hemisphere, a submarine voyage through liquid space, and the world’s first tubular steel-track roller coaster inspired by Switzerland’s majestic Matterhorn mountain. The new adventures exemplify the legacy that Imagineers have upheld for decades — using groundbreaking technologies to tell stories in immersive and innovative ways.
August – After outgrowing its quarters on the Disney Studios lot in Burbank, Calif., WED Enterprises moves to an industrial center in nearby Glendale.
June – Adventureland at Disneyland sees the introduction of Audio-Animatronics® technology in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, a musical revue starring hundreds of talking birds, singing flowers, and drumming and chanting tikis.
April – The New York World’s Fair opens with four attractions designed by WED Enterprises. These shows are among the most talked-about exhibits, and three of them — Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, “it’s a small world” and Carousel of Progress — make their way to Disneyland following their run at the fair. A portion of the fourth show, Ford’s Magic Skyway, became the Primeval World segment of the Disneyland Railroad.
February – Formerly owned by Walt personally, WED Enterprises becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company.
June – WED expands its footprint in Glendale, moving into the former home of Studio Girl Cosmetics at 1401 Flower St. — the building that continues to be the worldwide headquarters for Walt Disney Imagineering.
July – Construction wraps on a building at the Glendale campus to house the production of Audio-Animatronics technology. Because some funding for the structure came from fees that WED Enterprises was paid to design and manufacture special effects for Mary Poppins, the facility is named MAPO.
November – Walt and Roy announce plans to build an “East Coast Disneyland” called Disney World near Orlando, Fla., with WED Enterprises handling the master planning and design of the 27,500-acre site.
October – Walt shoots sequences for Project Florida, a marketing film written by Disney Legend and longtime Imagineering creative leader Marty Sklar. The movie showcases WED designers working on plans for Disney World, including the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — today known as Epcot.
December – Walt Disney passes away, leaving the continued development and eventual construction of Disney World to the men and women of WED Enterprises.
March – Pirates of the Caribbean debuts at Disneyland, introducing the first large-scale use of Audio-Animatronics figures. This was the final attraction Walt directly supervised, although he never saw it fully operational. Park visitors are astonished by the detailed tableaux and lifelike “cast” of pirates and animals, and the attraction sets a new standard for immersive experiences.
October – The Florida project opens with Magic Kingdom Park, two hotels, and two golf courses. In honor of his brother, Roy renames the property Walt Disney World. The word Resort is eventually added to reflect the extent of the property and its many offerings.
March – WED Enterprises tries its hand at a retail, dining and entertainment center, Lake Buena Vista Village at Walt Disney World Resort. It’s renamed Walt Disney World Village in 1977 and is now part of Disney Springs.
January – The first computer-controlled thrill ride, Space Mountain, begins rocketing Magic Kingdom guests into the outer reaches of space.
July – The Walt Disney Company announces that Epcot will be built at Walt Disney World Resort, but not exactly as Walt had envisioned. Instead of an experimental prototype community of tomorrow, it will become a permanent world’s fair consisting of two areas: Future World and World Showcase. The massive project is The Walt Disney Company’s largest undertaking since its founding in 1923.
August – The transportation system of tomorrow, the WEDway PeopleMover, opens at Houston Intercontinental Airport. It is the only transportation system ever designed and built by Disney for a public or private entity.
October – One year from the opening date of EPCOT, Imagineers gather in the parking lot of 1401 Flower to spell out “YES WE CAN,” dispelling any rumors that the project won’t be completed on time.
October – EPCOT opens on schedule at Walt Disney World Resort. Imagineers gather once again in the 1401 Flower parking lot to celebrate and spell out “WE DID IT.”
April – Disney’s first international park, Tokyo Disneyland, opens on land overlooking Tokyo Bay. After creating “only” two parks during its first 30 years — Disneyland and Magic Kingdom — WED Enterprises has produced two more within little more than six months of each other — EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland.
WED Enterprises is renamed Walt Disney Imagineering — a blending of the words imagination and engineering — to better reflect its unique combination of creative imagination and technical know-how.
January – A not so long time ago in a land pretty close to the Central Plaza at Disneyland Park, the creative forces of Disney and George Lucas unite to produce Star Tours, an adventure into the Star Wars galaxy. In 2012 Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm Ltd., becomes part of The Walt Disney Company.
May – Disney’s Hollywood Studios opens at Walt Disney World Resort. Originally conceived as an Epcot pavilion that would take guests on a journey into the magic of the movies, the project grew into an entire park as the concept was developed and other ideas were introduced.
With the opening of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Audio-Animatronics technology also takes a great leap forward. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Great Movie Ride is the first of its kind, an “A-100” figure that moves and gestures more fluidly and realistically than ever before.
Walt Disney Imagineering again expands its operations in Glendale, moving into a building adjacent to 1401 Flower called the Bowling Alley. The name is appropriate as the facility used to be a public bowling center with 60 lanes, a restaurant and lounge. Four of the lanes were retained for Imagineers to enjoy, but were eventually removed to accommodate more workspace.
October – Disney Vacation Club, an idea incubated at Walt Disney Imagineering, debuts with the opening of the Vacation Club Resort at Walt Disney World Resort, now called Disney’s Old Key West Resort. There are now more than a dozen Disney Vacation Club resorts, with locations in California, Florida, Hawaii and South Carolina.
April – Disneyland Paris, the first Disney resort in Europe, opens just outside of Paris, France, with Disneyland Park, several themed hotels, and a dining, shopping and entertainment area.
March – Walt Disney Imagineering has had a presence in Florida since Walt announced plans for Walt Disney World Resort in 1965, but it wasn’t until this date that it had a permanent home in its own building behind the scenes of Future World at Epcot.
July – Utilizing a groundbreaking ride system that makes guests feel like they’re plunging out of control in a runaway elevator, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
March – The Indiana Jones™ Adventure, the first attraction to feature a linear ride path combined with an on-vehicle motion base, opens at Disneyland Park.
February – Disney announces the purchase of Gorda Cay, a 1,000-acre uninhabited island in the Bahamas. Imagineers immediately set about turning it into Castaway Cay island to welcome passengers of Disney Cruise Line, which will launch two years later.
May – Walt Disney Imagineering merges with Disney Development Company, which was formed in the mid-1980s to oversee the design and construction of hotels and Disney administrative buildings. The blended organization is called Walt Disney Imagineering because, says one Disney executive, “The Imagineering name is so powerful and so unique.”
June – The Walt Disney Company purchases the more than 100-acre Grand Central Business Centre that has been home to Walt Disney Imagineering since 1961. Until 1959, an area of the property had been the Grand Central Terminal, the first commercial passenger airport on the West Coast.
June – The Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal opens the exhibit “The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks,” the first museum exhibit of artwork, models and artifacts to critically explore the art and design philosophy of Disney parks and Walt Disney Imagineering. The exhibit also visits other museums across America.
April – Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens at Walt Disney World Resort. Larger than the other three Walt Disney World parks combined, this park features nature-themed and conservation-minded lands and attractions as well as “encounters” with live wild animals.
July – Disney Magic, the first ship in the Disney Cruise Line fleet, is christened and departs from Port Canaveral on its maiden voyage. Four more ships have since launched — Disney Wonder (1999), Disney Dream (2011), Disney Fantasy (2012) and Disney Wish (2022)— and additional ships are in the works.
March – Using an innovative ride system that can reach speeds of up to 65 mph, the Test Track attraction opens at Epcot.
Disney announces plans to transform the Grand Central Business Centre, long the home of Walt Disney Imagineering, into the Grand Central Creative Campus. In addition to Imagineering, the campus is now home to Disney Consumer Products and Interactive, the Los Angeles affiliate of ABC, and various other Disney business units.
October - IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth debuts at World Showcase Lagoon in Epcot. The show traces the creation of Earth and achievements of mankind, is set to an incredible music score, and utilizes state-of-the-art pyrotechnics, animated fountains, laser projections, fireworks and more. The production received several awards throughout the years.
September – Pooh’s Hunny Hunt opens at Tokyo Disneyland, featuring an innovative trackless ride system that sends guests on a willy, nilly, silly adventure through the Hundred Acre Wood.
February – Built on the former parking lot for Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park debuts. The park is part of a massive expansion of the Disneyland Resort, which also includes the largest parking structure in the world at the time and the craftsman style Disney resort, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
September – Tokyo Disney Resort adds the aquatic-themed Tokyo DisneySea Park as well as the Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta, which forms the backdrop for Mediterranean Harbor, one of the park’s ports of call.
March – The third Disney park to open in little more than a year, Walt Disney Studios Park draws its inspiration from classic Hollywood movie studios and is the second park at Disneyland Paris.
August – Mission: SPACE, the first attraction to incorporate the centrifuge technology used in astronaut training, begins sending Epcot guests to Mars.
August – Imagineers celebrate 40 years of Audio-Animatronics technology by unveiling their latest breakthrough: an autonomous dinosaur named Lucky. Up to this point, Audio-Animatronics figures could sing, talk, move and duel with swords, but they could not roam from their position. Lucky could walk independently as well as interact with guests.
May – Adventures By Disney debuts with trips to Wyoming. Today, Adventures By Disney offers culturally immersive, once-in-a-lifetime experiences to destinations around the world. One tour, “Backstage Magic,” features a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Walt Disney Imagineering itself in Glendale, Calif.
September – Hong Kong Disneyland Resort opens on Lantau Island, featuring Hong Kong Disneyland Park along with Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Hollywood Hotel. A third hotel, Disney Explorers Lodge, is added in 2017.
June – The world of Disney and Pixar’s Cars races to life in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort, setting a new standard for storytelling environments by immersing guests in the town of Radiator Springs. Imagineers utilized their Digital Immersive Showroom, or “DISH,” to spot potential design issues before construction. It also helped them to figure out timing, audio cues and special effects.
The newly restored Grand Central Air Terminal opens with a visitor’s center designed by Walt Disney Imagineering and offices for The Walt Disney Company. The building, which combines Spanish Colonial Revival with Art Deco and Streamline Moderne influences, originally opened as part of the Grand Central Air Terminal in 1929. It was one of the buildings left standing after the airport was redeveloped as the Grand Central Industrial Centre in 1959.
June – Shanghai Disney Resort becomes the first Disney resort in the Chinese mainland, featuring Shanghai Disneyland — with the largest Disney castle ever built — Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and Toy Story Hotel, and the Disneytown shopping, dining and entertainment district. The park features a number of groundbreaking ride systems, including TRON Lightcycle Power Run and the next-generation Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
May – Pandora – The World of Avatar opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The new land brings to life an alien world first seen in the 2009 film Avatar and features “floating” mountains, an adventure aboard a banshee, and an incredibly realistic Na’vi Shaman that represents the next generation of Audio-Animatronics technology.
April – In the first major expansion of Shanghai Disneyland, Imagineers add a land inspired by the Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story film series. A few months later, a similar area premieres at Disney's Hollywood Studios.