Today in Disney History, 1982: EPCOT Center Opened

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Disney History, EPCOT, WDW Blog

On Sale Now- The Pirates of the Caribbean Attraction Special from WDW Magazine!

It’s difficult for me to imagine a (Disney) world before EPCOT existed. Alas, there was such a time!

Regardless of the mental, visual, and even emotional preparation that both guests and Cast Members alike were given, there was no way anyone could have been prepared for the groundbreaking phenomenon that was and is EPCOT Center.

EPCOT’s opening ceremony, which took place on this day in 1982 was nothing short of a space opera fairy tale with lavish amenities and a 5,000 person preview guest list. 

Pre-Opening Extravaganza

DPB-Epcot-Mexico-Construction-1982

A view of the Mexico Pavilion still under construction in April of 1982. Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

As early as 1979, you could view exciting teasers on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom in the form of concept art and a short film designed to plant the seed of wonder and excitement for Walt Disney’s EPCOT.

Guests were also encouraged to hop the monorail and view the ongoing construction of EPCOT Center to further add to the anticipation!

Walt Disney World was (and still is) adept at building excitement, which you can see in some of the archival photos—some of which feature guests wearing shirts which state “I’ve Been Waiting Years For This!”

As a result, it’s easy to see how the days leading up to October 1st, 1982 were just as exhilarating as the official opening day itself. 

Select guests, Cast Members, and of course Imagineers, were given the chance to explore EPCOT Center before the general public, an experience which had been planned to take place over the course of three days—September 24th, 25th, and 27th. 

But due to the high demand of Cast Members, including the construction crew and their loved ones, September 28th – 30th were included so as not to leave out anyone who had any part in creating the magic of EPCOT! 

To add to the celebration, Disney made everyone feel like they were part of the family. The perks of having helped create EPCOT came with special treatment on these days.  Full, extravagant menus at restaurants throughout EPCOT Center were available with Cast Member discounts, and strollers and wheelchairs were provided free of charge.

I can only imagine the pride and excitement of showcasing this new piece of Disney landscape that you helped create to your loved ones – talk about Disney magic!

The Cost of Magic

DPB-Epcot-Banners-1982

A view of Spaceship Earth on Epcot’s Opening Day. Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

In the virtual world of anything at the touch of a device, it is hard to imagine a fair-system where paper tickets and fast passes existed (if you happen to have any of the aforementioned, hang on to them, they may become a priceless novelty one day, if they aren’t already).

Back in the world of 1982, one of those paper tickets to EPCOT on opening day would have put you out just $15, $12 for a child, or at the envious price of $100 for an adult annual pass (then called annual passport). How the times have changed! 

While that may seem like peanuts in terms of inflation, to put it in perspective, it is estimated that EPCOT construction was valued at anywhere between $800 million to 1.4 billion dollars! That’s quite a few $12-$15 day passes to the park!

Special Dedications

DPB-Epcot-Opening-ceremony-1982

Cast Members sing and dance at EPCOT’s dedication ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Just as though the thrilling celebrations to launch the opening of EPCOT Center started well before October 1st, 1982, the party didn’t stop on that day either. Among of the most special events to happen during EPCOT’s opening month were the dedications to the attractions, including the World Showcase, made even more special by who was officiating them.

SpaceShip Earth drew the main crowd considering it’s place at the center of EPCOT, both physically and image-wise.

It was dedicated by AT&T president William Eisenburg and featured EPCOT’s First Family (meaning they were gifted lifetime passes for being the first family to walk through the turnstiles!) – Dick and Paula Cason, as well as their teenage children.

Other guests to attend the various opening ceremonies were Danny Kaye (who performed later at Disneyland), Card Walker (Chairman of the Board for Disney at the time), and even Lillian Disney, who may not have spoken at any of the events, but was there to celebrate her late husband’s achievements!

Even Future World was informally dedicated by possibly the only person out of the 5,000 folks there on the night of October 22nd not in their best bib and tucker – the Goodyear blimp! That’s what we love about Disney, a perfect marriage of fun and formality!

An Exploration of the Imagination

It is no surprise that fans of science fiction tend to gravitate towards Disney, maybe even more so to EPCOT. The park itself is about exploring a tomorrow we can only dream of, so of course it stands to reason that Disney would utilize one of their more incredible friendships in the creation of EPCOT’s signature piece!

If you enjoy the script of SpaceShip Earth, regardless of which narrator you prefer, you have one of the most beloved science fiction authors of all time to thank – Ray Bradbury!

DPB-Ray-Bradbury-EPCOT

The brilliant Ray Bradbury poses in front of a concept map for Epcot Center. Photo Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

Along with the composition of the script, Walt Disney and Bradbury had a mutual admiration for one another, and Bradbury was dedicated to ensuring the legacy of EPCOT did not have to die, even after Walt’s death. 

Ray Bradbury was often a sounding board for Walt in the creation of so much more than SpaceShip Earth, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and parts of Tomorrowland. 

It’s impossible to mention imagination and EPCOT without talking about everyone’s favorite purple dragon, Figment. The opening of EPCOT Center was not only seminal as a new park on Disney property but as a totally new and unique theme park focused on imagination, education, and culture.

The opening of EPCOT was also the unveiling of EPCOT’s much-anticipated mascot, Figment, along with his creator, Dreamfinder. While the story and experience of Figment has changed over the years, it still remains an opening day attraction.

And, if you ask the right people, you may get to learn of how the original Journey into Imagination featured Figment’s innovative backstory, the same one which has filled our hearts with love for this jovial purple dragon for decades!

EPCOT has touched our hearts and challenged our imaginations for almost four decades as we have shared in the promise and growth that this park means not only to us as individuals or to the Disney company, but to the future.

This park may have opened its gates in 1982, but it was born over a century ago in the mind of the original Imagineer, Walt Disney.

While we have him to thank for the seed that eventually became EPCOT, fittingly enough, we wouldn’t have this real estate of progress and forward-thinking if it weren’t for the headway brought by the future.

It all started with one little spark of inspiration that became a dream come true!


Did you know that we post historical snippets just like this every week? Subscribe to our newsletter today, and have “Today in Disney History” delivered straight to your inbox!


Related:

Written by Britta Stephens

epcot-clothing_creations-shop_chiu
Britta Stephens is a contributing writer for WDW Magazine, Disney blogger, hairstylist, and dog mom x2. The first book she ever read was Hans Christan Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and she's been a fan of Disney endings ever since. When she’s not fostering kittens, she can be found reading literature from a dog’s perspective and singing the opening of The Lion King to her greenhouse plants.
Britta Stephens

Written by Britta Stephens

Britta Stephens is a contributing writer for WDW Magazine, Disney blogger, hairstylist, and dog mom x2. The first book she ever read was Hans Christan Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and she's been a fan of Disney endings ever since. When she’s not fostering kittens, she can be found reading literature from a dog’s perspective and singing the opening of The Lion King to her greenhouse plants.