History time: EPCOT pt. 1 (the ideas, the grand opening and the long-dead attractions)

Source: finddisney.com
Epcot is the epitome of what could be called an "adult" theme park.  Its pavilions and rides deal with some very serious topics in the technological world, the architecture of the buildings can be very cold and impersonal, and the World Showcase consists of almost nothing else besides shops, restaurants and museum-like exhibits.  And let's not even talk about the sometimes-insane unofficial game that is Drinking Around the World.  (Seriously, let's not.)

However, as any Disney nut will tell you, Epcot wasn't always entirely like this.  In fact, Epcot wasn't originally intended to be a theme park at all!  Instead it was what would become Walt Disney's final big dream - a futuristic city and planned community which would revolve around the testing and implication of new technology.  In those days it was referred to as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which is how Epcot got its name (it's an acronym).  Some of Walt's ideas were pretty extraordinary, but unfortunately he passed away before any of them could be realized.

Source: orlandoparknews.com
After Walt's death, Imagineers were split over what to do with EPCOT's plans.  While they all agreed that they didn't want to build and run a city without Walt there and would build a theme park instead, they couldn't decide what its focus would be - while some wanted it to focus on technological advancements, others wanted it to be a showcase of the world's cultures and customs.  The two ideas were eventually merged and construction began in 1979, in what was at the time the largest construction project in the world's history.  If you ever felt that it didn't make sense for having Future World and the World Showcase in the same park, I hope this answered something for you!

Source: imagineeringdisney.com
The central icon and original flagship attraction was Spaceship Earth when EPCOT Center opened in October of 1982, and is an extraordinary bit of construction itself.  I won't talk too much about it here but an interesting fact is that this was one of the first structures to be planned and drafted with the help of a computer - a fitting thing for a park focusing on new technology.  The original ride was much different from the one we're used to today - for starters, the ride was narrated (allegedly) by Larry Dobkin and sponsored by Bell System.

Source: waltdatedworld.bravepages.com
The rest of Future World was much different as well.  Rather than having eight major pavilions only four were standing on opening day - CommuniCore, World of Motion, The Land and Universe of Energy.  Horizons and Journey Into Imagination wouldn't arrive until the next year, and there's actually a souvenir video floating around the Internet that states that Horizons is "still under construction".  Ironic since the ride and the building no longer exist!

Source: illuminatingepcot.com
CommuniCore was the essentially the original incarnation of Innoventions, though its focus was a lot more on computers and other serious topics of the time.  Remember, back in the 80s personal computers were all but unheard of so there was quite a bit of apprehension over how they worked!  A show/tour called the Astuter Computer Revue was meant to help guide people through EPCOT Center's computer systems, but it became the first attraction to close when it was replaced by Backstage Magic.

Source: waltdatedworld.bravepages.com
The photo above also tied a theme from the World Showcase to Future World - it was a literal fountain of information from all over the world and symbolized what the future of technology could bring.  I think it's super-cool looking, even if it is dated :)

World of Motion, housed in the round building that now hosts Test Track, was a lighthearted and slow-moving look at the history of motion - from the invention of the wheel to trains to airplanes and everything in between!  It was sponsored by General Motors (GM) and usually featured some concept cars for the company in the post-show area - something that Test Track still does to this day.  However, GM eventually decided that they wanted to sponsor a ride that focused solely on cars - and more specifically GM's cars - and urged Disney to create a new attraction.  This new attraction, obviously, became Test Track.  We'll talk more about it later.

Source: lostepcot.com
The Land was originally sponsored by Kraft Foods and has remained largely the same in terms of what it teaches about - agriculture and and environment - though most of its original attractions are no longer there.  The sole remaining survivor is Living with the Land, originally titled Listen to the Land, which in my opinion is a highly-underrated and fun attraction!  Other than that, the pavilion opened with Kitchen Kabaret - a cute show about nutrition and the major food groups housed where Soarin' is today - and an environmental film called Symbiosis.

The Land has also always been well known for having some delicious restaurants with fresh produce in its food - since there are greenhouses nearby this makes perfect sense.

Source: land.allears.net
Before Ellen took over the Universe of Energy pavilion, the attraction was... pretty much the same as it is now.  Long and dull, unless you really like energy.  However, the original preshow was a series of blocks with screens on them that could flip and rotate in sync to show various moving images.  I'm still pretty convinced that this is one of the coolest things I've ever seen.  If you can find a video of the original attraction with the preshow I highly recommend that you watch it.

Source: land.allears.net
A little somewhat-unrelated thought - the Universe of Energy ride might be the longest in all of Walt Disney World.  It clocks in at about forty-five minutes long!

So, that settles it for an overview of what was going on in Future World... but what about the World Showcase?  Well, firstly I hope that you aren't too attached to the Morocco or Norway pavilions - on opening day in 1982 they hadn't even been built yet!  Yup, originally Epcot only had nine pavilions even though it was designed to hold many more - every now and then a rumor will crop up about a potential new country being represented but usually costs or said country's government get in the way.

If you're anything like me eating in the World Showcase is probably one of your favorite things to do, but think back to 1982... how could one make dinner reservations?  Walking up is always an option, as is called ahead by telephone, but the Internet, cell phones and other forms of communication didn't really exist then.  However, EPCOT Center took a different route.  Remember how I talked about how computers were pretty alien to guests back then?  Well, here they were forced to use them if they wanted information or reservations through kiosks called WorldKey.

Source: burningsettlerscabin.com
WorldKey stations could be found in Spaceship Earth's post-show lobby, near the bridge to the World Showcase and outside of the German pavilion.  At these stations, guests could use s touch screen (revolutionary at the time) to get information about operating hours, rides and the different countries represented.  If needed, they could also video chat with a cast member live - another revolutionary idea - which added a much more personal touch to a somewhat frightening piece of technology.

Without geeking out over the technical aspects of this idea, WorldKey stations were a cool way to not only get in-depth information over certain areas of the park but to also get guests acquainted with a piece of technology that would grow to become more and more important as the decade went on.  Though they were closed down in 1999, you can still see where they used to be near Guest Relations in Epcot:

Source: imaginerding.com
So that just about wraps it up for this history lesson!  Next time I'll talk about the Future World pavilions that were added later on in the decade (Horizons, Journey Into Imagination, The Living Seas and Wonders of Life) as well as discuss the two countries in the World Showcase that were added after opening (Morocco and Norway).  And after that I'll talk about the new millennium, which brought the greatest parade that has ever been seen (no, really).  Until then, I hoped you enjoyed this and I'll see you again soon!


  1. Wow this is awesome! I love your posts! I am about to Youtube everything about old EPCOT!

    1. Thank you! In addition, I highly recommend sites like lostepcot.com - they have some pretty amazing video footage and photos of old restaurants, rides and the like :)

  2. I am a 5th grader doing a school project I found this article very helpful, but I have a Question.What is the structure of this greenhouse? I know it's made of glass and metal but in my project I need to be much more specific than that. If you could please reply I would be interested to know if you have this information. Thank You, 5th grade student.

    1. Hi there! I'm entirely sure about details on the greenhouse construction in the Land pavilion - I do know they are designed with triangle-shaped panes of glass that curve slightly outward. They also have vents at the very center of the roof in places. The floor and lower walls are concrete and there are walkways alongside the water track for the workers.