When the brilliant illustrator and animator Walt Disney devised the world’s first theme park, California’s Disneyland, he left himself with no control over the hotels and restaurants that quickly engulfed it, preventing growth and erasing profits Disney felt were rightly his. Determined not to let that happen again, the Disney corporation secretly bought up 27,500 acres of central Florida farmland, acquiring by the late Sixties a site a hundred times bigger than Disneyland. With the promise of a jobs bonanza for Florida, the state legislature gave the corporation the rights of any major municipality (via a special jurisdiction called the Reedy Creek Improvement District) – empowering it to lay roads, enact building codes and enforce the law with its own security force.
Walt Disney World’s first “land”, the Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971, was a huge success. Unveiled in 1982, the far more ambitious Epcot represented the first major break from cartoon-based escapism – but its rose-tinted look at the future received a mixed response. Partly due to this, and to some bad management decisions, the Disney empire (Disney himself died in 1966) faced bankruptcy by the mid-1980s. Since then, the corporation has sprung back from the abyss, and despite being subject to a (failed) hostile takeover bid by Comcast in 2004, steers a tight and competitive business ship. It may trade in fantasy, but when it comes to money, the Disney Corporation’s nose is firmly in the real world.Read More