This month marks the 30th anniversary of Disney’s second theme park here in Florida, EPCOT. Originally planned as an experimental controlled community, home to twenty thousands residents; a test bed for emerging city planning and technological ideas and creations. As he put it in his own words:
“EPCOT… will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise. It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT, there will be no slum areas because we won’t let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed.”
Walt Disney died long before he was able to see an progress on EPCOT. Though his idea for a Utopian city was set aside for the moment, plans to open a new park continued. Originally, there was much indecision among Imagineers on the park’s purpose, with some wanting it to represent present and any future technological advances while others wanted it to showcase international cultures and customs. At some point in time, the two ideas came together forming a plan similar to those of the world expos, where new technology is presented and guests are able to experience different cultures from around the world with Spaceship Earth as the centerpiece and main attraction.
Opening in 1982, Spaceship Earth was sponsored by the Bell System who had a monopoly on telephone services across the United States. In 1984, the Bell System was broken into smaller companies, with it’s parent company, AT&T, becoming it’s own company. AT&T would go on to continue sponsoring Spaceship Earth from 1984 to 2004.
In 1994, technology had drastically changed since Spaceship Earth opened and AT&T saw it as something that represented the old world, so they decided it was time for a update. Though the majority of the scenes of our history remained unchanged, those showing our current and future communication were largely updated; the script was rewritten, the theme song removed and Jeremy Irons was brought in to narrate. It was with this update that the post-show area was changed, replacing the original “Earth Station” with “AT&T’s Global Neighborhood”. The new post-show experience featured hand-on exhibits featuring AT&T’s communication technology.
In 1999, to coincide with the Millennium Celebration, AT&T once again updated the post-show. The original “Global Neighborhood” exhibits were removed and replaced with a large tree made of thick steel cable dubbed “The Network Tree” which sat atop a geodesic, transparent floor. Guests were able to see all the cables which connected to various exhibits through the tree’s branches and roots. This new post-show was renamed “The New Global Neighborhood”.
In 2003, after nearly 20-years as the sponsor, AT&T decided to end it’s partnership with Disney and subsequent sponsorship of the attraction. The “New Global Neighborhood” was removed and the area boarded up.