Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Florida Before Mickey: Disney's Impact on Orlando

By Keith Mahne

Prior to the arrival of Mickey, Orlando and the rest of Central Florida may not have been as well-known to the rest of the country as sun-tanned Miami or sea-storied Key West. Yet here, in the middle of the peninsula, was an eden. All you had to do was find your way there. And over 50 years ago, on a typical fall day in Central Florida, one very important man did. Walt Disney changed the entire history and economy of Central Florida with one, swift decision. A decision to build his latest and greatest dream with the blessing of size. But what did the local community think of this change? Let's find out in today's new article titled Florida Before Mickey: Disney's Impact on Orlando...

Walt walks on WDW property

Before Walt Disney World, south of Orlando, in Osceola County, Kissimmee had about 12,000 residents and two main economic mainstays – citrus packing and ranching. The area's few two-lane hardtop roads and grass fields of cattle land and citrus groves were testament to the openness of the country and the scarcity of its human inhabitants.

Like any eden, Central Florida was beautiful to the eye, even in fall and winter, and it was a sportsman's paradise because of this. Besides the Air Force base southeast of Orlando, where civilian jets were just starting to take off and land under a civilian-military partnership, or the citrus groves and cattle land surrounding the city and all the smaller towns throughout the immediate region, there was little of what an out-of-town traveler at the time might view as a must-see attraction worth driving to.

Roy O. Disney and Disney executives inspect WDW property

Disney executives inspect WDW property

Today, you can go down south of Orlando and you'll see shopping malls, themed attractions and fast-food restaurants that cater to visitors who come here to see the sights and to experience the thrills. Time-share complexes and water parks compete for attention, as do endless retail businesses and storefront after storefront of T-shirt shops and neon-lighted souvenir stands. Arising above it all is the unceasing hum of traffic on the two main highways that crisscross the region six miles or so south of downtown Orlando. It's the sight of progress and of a booming tourist economy. But what did the local residents of the area think of all this shortly after the Cinderella Castle spires rose out of the pines and swamps of Central Florida?

To answer this question we need to travel back to June 18th, 1972. On this date, 60 Minutes and reporter Mike Wallace aired a segment showcasing what changes were occurring in Orange County now that Disney had moved into the neighborhood.

At 11 minutes in length, this brief and fantastic 60 Minutes clip gives us a nice glimpse of what life was like in Orange County before the "Disney Boom." Take a look at this great footage to really understand what was going on in the area at that time...


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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