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From A Swamp To A Tourism Hub: 50 Years Of Walt Disney World

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Image courtesy of Aaron H. Goldberg.

Fifty years ago this week, the Magic Kingdom opened its doors. Walt Disney wasn’t alive to see his vision for an Orlando-area theme park become a reality. But his dream for a park that improved on the original Disneyland in California, has transformed Central Florida in the decades since. The vast swathe of land that was once a swamp is now a tourism hub, and the arrival of Disney World also signaled a profound shift in the identity of the region. 

Aaron H. Goldberg writes about this in his book Buying Disney’s World: The Story of How Florida Swampland Became Walt Disney World.

WMFE’s Talia Blake talked with Goldberg about Disney’s impact on the economy and landscape of Central Florida. 

He says the weather was the key factor in deciding where to build the theme park.

“It was almost in St. Louis. There was a look over at the Niagara Falls, but it was too cold. Washington DC, again, weather issues; outside of New York City- weather again. And then Florida…was like the sweet spot where, you know, all year round, you wouldn’t have to go crazy with putting it all under one roof, which were like the early rumors,” says Goldberg.

He says some of the people on Disney’s team wanted the park to be near Daytona Beach, but he didn’t want to be close to the ocean.

“At times when they purchased the land, 75% of it was underwater during the year. But that didn’t matter. He figured there’d be a way for him to make it usable, which which they obviously did.”

Goldberg says without Disney, Orlando would have grown, but at a much slower pace.

“It certainly wouldn’t be what we see today, it would kind of just be, maybe another sleepy town.”


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