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by Ken Pellman (archives)
January 10, 2003
On the occasion of their 50th anniversary, Ken gives a brief history and a look into the future of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Kenversations - Happy Anniversary, Imagineering

Here we are in a brand new year. Walt Disney Imagineering has been around for more than fifty years now. Towards the end of 2002, WDI ushered in its Golden Anniversary.

A New Company Needed
WDI wasn’t always a part of the Disney corporation.

Once upon a time, in addition to the publicly traded Walt Disney Productions (now known as The Walt Disney Company), Walt had companies known as Retlaw, Walt Disney, Inc., and WED Enterprises. Retlaw was Walt’s private company that licensed his likeness and name, and owned the Disneyland Railroad and Disneyland Monorail. Apparently, Roy Disney. Walt’s brother and partner, thought Walt Disney, Inc. was a name that would cause trouble with the shareholders of Walt Disney Productions, so it was soon changed to WED Enterprises, WED being short for Walter Elias Disney. There are still Imagineers who refer to WDI as WED.

WED was formed to make Walt’s Disneyland dream a reality. While there were plenty of amusement parks around, there was no existing organization that could take Walt’s idea of a new kind of park from concept to opening. Walt was a showman who understood storytelling. Also, using Walt Disney Productions to create the new venture would be problematic. What was to become Disneyland Park was considered a risky, untried enterprise. Something like that had never been pulled off on that scale.

So, Walt created a new company, staffing it with the artists, craftsmen, storytellers, and technical specialists he’d come in contact with through producing animation and live-action films. This company would be organized around Walt’s personality, Walt’s goals, and staffed with people who Walt could get to do things the way he liked. Imagineering was born.

pic1.jpg (19907 bytes)
Disneyland's opening day
(c) Disney

Growth Under Walt
As we all know, Disneyland Park became a success, an American icon, a cultural institution. Both the park and WED Enterprises became part of the Disney corporation. Disneyland Park grew and so did WED. The theme park niche of the amusement park industry had been established, and so other design companies and other theme parks emerged, but WED remained the largest and most accomplished.

Walt’s visions got bigger. He kept playing with and "plussing" his toy, Disneyland Park, and was forming plans for a much more ambitious project that would eventually end up in central Florida. Imagineers were making creative and technical advances to bring new projects to fruition.



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