Project Future, The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Walt Disney World

Though I may not be able to rattle off names, dates and facts as succinctly as some Disneyphiles, my love of all things historical within the Walt Disney Company is no less great. So I was quite excited when I was given a copy of Chad Denver Emerson‘s new book entitled Project Future, The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Walt Disney World, Ayefour Publishing, 2010, which details the events, meetings and plans that led to the creation of Walt Disney World – known at its start as simply Project Future.

Project Future Chad Denver EmersonProject Future is one of several code names for the Florida project which Walt Disney began work on as early as 1959, just 4 short years after the opening of his first theme park, Disneyland. We all know the stories of why Walt wanted to secure so much land in Florida to ensure as much aesthetic control as possible over his new endeavor and prevent the Anaheim situation of surrounding businesses growing up around the Disneyland property. However, what we may not know is exactly how much thought, planning, and research and CIA-like covert operations went into the final choices that let Project Future take place. Mr. Emerson shares all of that with us.

I found the book a delight to read. Even though I knew the eventual outcome, I found myself eager to turn the page and see what the next step would be – the next hurdle that Disney would overcome, and the ingenious ways he and his team accomplished their goals. One could easily think that meetings, legislative actions and land acquisition might get overwhelming after a time. This is not the case at all. Mr. Emerson tells the story in such a way that it is clear, concise and easy to keep track of.

The story truly is the blueprint for the Walt Disney Company – always thinking beyond the present into the future, anticipating new technology, new ways of thinking and new ways to implement those ideas. In addition, Walt Disney World cemented the Disney tradition of impeccable control over all of its enterprises. If Disney wanted to ensure he secured a 42 acre plot of land that would utilize the latest and greatest building techniques, utilities and site development, he needed to be in control of all aspects of the undertaking. In Project Future, we see just how Disney ensured that he was.

A major piece of the puzzle Disney and his team members utilized was the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. As Lee Cockerell records in his foreward in Project Future:

The Reedy Creek Improvement District has played an important role in the success of the Walt Disney World Resort. That much is very clear to everyone at Walt Disney World.

It is simply fascinating the see the new paths that were forged in an effort not only to ensure control of the project, but to ensure the best for all that would benefit from it.

Of particular interest to me personally was the initial plans for Disney’s Project Future that were so exciting to see in print, even knowing that they were never fully realized. I loved learning about the other possible sites that were considered before choosing the parcels of land that would merge together to form the familiar map we explore with every visit to Walt Disney World.

My favorite passage is as follows:

Another factor in the issue of control was that Walt reached his creative and most influential apex at the same time disorder was disrupting American cities.  The 1960s were a time of urban upheaval and distress, with riots and crime disrupting the nation.  Walt seemed intent on countering these problems.  Rather than seeking to impose order on existing institutions, he sought to create new institutions to further his goal.  In doing so, he implicitly recognized the national flux of the 1960s was not something he had to destroy. He did not seem intent to force his ideals on the public as a whole.  Rather, he sought increased control over a project that would never have existed but for his investment in the effort. The result was the multibillion-dollar Project Future for which Disney ultimately sought very little public funding.

–Project Future


An inspiring reflection on the visionary man we all revere to this day. I would recommend this book to any fan looking to increase their knowledge of just exactly how it was “all started by a mouse”. It is a quick read and as I mentioned above, not overwhelmed by facts and figures. Though based in facts and company and state records, it is no less entertaining and intriguing. Mr. Emerson treats the material with reverence, but adheres to the facts and has clearly done his research. I hope this is the first of many more books from him in this subject matter.

From the Project Future press release:

Emerson, a tenured member of the faculty at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law and highly-respected theme park and attractions industry expert, also puts readers in Conference Room 2E at the company’s Burbank headquarters as the most senior Disney officials sort through the optimal parcels of land to place the “real working city” and planned entertainment development.

Emerson spent more than two years researching the history of Walt Disney’s Florida project while interviewing a variety of key players such as Harrison “Buzz” Price, Robert Price Foster, Gov. Claude Kirk, and Tom DeWolf.  The result is a book that serves up intriguing glimpses of historic detail interspersed with fascinating strategies and spy-like maneuvers the Walt Disney Company deployed to fashion more than 27,000 acres of Florida marsh, swamp and farmland into the world’s most successful destination.

Project Future (ISBN 78-0-615-34777-6) is published by Ayefour Publishing at a list price of $14.95.  More information can be found at www.projectfuturebook.com.


Disclosure and contest: Mr. Emerson has been been kind enough to not only provide me with a book for this review, but he has a copy for one lucky reader as well. Leave a comment here between now and midnight PST on April 15, 2010 and you will be entered in the drawing to take place using random.org for a copy of Project Future. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

If you do not win, you can purchase the book at the link above or buy Project Future on amazon. {affiliate link}





About Suzannah Otis

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Wife, Mom of 3, coffee addict, lover of travel and adventure.