Thursday, September 22, 2016

RCA’s 1968 Proposal to Build a Communication System at Disney World

By Ted Linhart

When Walt Disney World was being developed and constructed it needed a world class communications system in order to fulfill the goals Walt himself set for “The Florida Project.” And so, in 1968, RCA stepped up to the plate with a proposal for a system that attempted to provide those solutions for the Disney World complex, although it may have been decades ahead of its time. In today's new article, you will be able to see that exact same 72-page RCA proposal thanks to a copy once owned by an executive who actually worked on this very enthusiastic and exciting project. This is a piece of Disney World history you won't want to miss...

Walt Disney said in the famous 1966 film where the plans for WDW and EPCOT were introduced to the American public, “If we can bring together the technical know-how of American industry and the creative imagination of the Disney organization I’m confident we can create, right here in Disney World, a showcase to the world of the American free enterprise system. I believe we can build a community that more people will talk about and come to look at than any other area in the world.”

While the ambitious plans of that film were downsized after Walt’s death, WDW of course still went forward with the project, as well as the need for its guests and staff to interact and manage the tremendous amount of information involved in a resort covering almost 30,000 acres and hosting 10-20 million guests a year.

I collect documents, letters and other ephemera about the building and evolution of the Disney theme parks. One my favorite items in my collection is this RCA proposal which I didn’t even know existed until I stumbled on it for sale on eBay. The oversized publication is called “Project 90: An Executive Summary. The integrated information-communication system for Walt Disney World." This version is dated December 1968 and this copy belonged to Jim Pasilla (his name is on the cover) who was a Disneyland employee and later Disney World SVP of Human Resources who helped establish Disney University at Euro Disney.

The first thing one notices about the proposal - and which first caught my eye when I saw it on eBay - was the cover image of Progress City from the Carousel of Progress.  That image symbolizes my passion for Walt Disney and his view of the future more than any other (except for maybe a few things from Horizons).

As the Introduction notes, it was called Project 90 because it was the result of a joint study between Disney and RCA to develop “a conceptual approach to mating operational and administrative management functions into a single hybrid electronic system employing several medias such as digital computers, television, mobile communications and the telephone." After that study, the two companies decided to collaborate on a 90 day effort to “validate the hybrid systems approach, to configure the system, to develop costs and establish an implementation plan." The plan was presented on 11/19/1968 and this appears to be a printed version of that plan.

Included with this document when I bought it was a copy of a 1/14/1969 letter on RCA letterhead to Donn Tatum, President of Walt Disney Productions at the time, from RCA Director of Systems Development T.G. Paterson. The letter is a formal submission of the proposed plan...

The plan details a system dubbed WEDCOMM - Walter Elias Disney Communications Oriented Monitoring and Management System. The goals of the system are 1) Enhance guest satisfaction, 2) Maximize facilities utilization 3) Minimize cost of operations and, 4) Provide Safety commensurate with technology.

RCA approached the proposal by imagining how it would help a typical guest at WDW.  The first part of the document describes and illustrates a fictional guest who they named George Kellogg from Wilmington, Delaware. The illustrations, which are primarily in black & white, have a subtle 60’s futuristic vibe but accomplish the goal of conveying the story. These early pages tells the story of how George and his family interact with WEDCOMM, whether they know it or not.

Booking the reservation — “George is not aware of it, but his reservation is fed into the COMPUTER’S ATTENDANCE PREDICTION MODEL which triggers a whole series of actions designed to make the visit a truly memorable one."

Arriving at WDW — “At The Entrance Center, an attendant welcomes George and his family and verifies their reservations. The attendant’s reservation list has been prepared by the COMPUTER ... so George has just had his second contact with WEDCOMM."

Visiting the Park — "As the family passes through the entrance gate the turnstile counting device enters their family into the COMPUTER’S COUNT OF TOTAL PARK ATTENDANCE… Unknown to George the computer already senses that the guest count is rising at a faster rate than predicted.  This updated information will be promptly displayed on a VIDEO DATA TERMINAL at the SYSTEM COMMUNICATION CENTER.  There an operator will alter the operations center supervisor so he can decide to bring in extra help in time to meet the need… Space Mountain turns out to be a fantastic experience. It might not have turned out that way, had it not been for the AUTOMATIC MONITORING SYSTEM which had detected a faulty pump the previous evening."

The next part of the document covers specific benefits of WECOMM for guests:

Benefits For Operations: Enhance Guest Satisfaction, Minimize Cost of Operations, Provide Safety Security and Fire Protection, Air and Water Pollution Control.

Benefits For Finance: An Inquiry and Response System, An Inventory Control System, Guest Statistics.

Benefits for Marketing: Increased guest satisfaction will help return visits, Computerized Guest Profiles, Database of prospective guests, on site TV advertising.

Benefits for Personnel and Training: Closed Circuit Television, Video Recording.

Benefits For Entertainment: TV broadcast and recording of events in the park.

Benefits for Engineering: Automatic Monitoring and Control, TV Monitoring, Computer statistical analysis

Benefits for Construction: Computerized construction scheduling and cost control, Centralized communication system,

Benefits for Maintenance: Minimize Unplanned Downtime, Assure Quality of Rides Shows and Attractions, Minimize Costs of Operation.

Next is a two page spread showing the plan for the Systems Communication Center which will be “the operational nerve center for the entire information-communicaton system, where information vital to operational management is received and transmitted.” This is followed by a flow chart of how the Communications Center handles all of the systems. The document also discusses the Program Management Office. “Complete responsibility for the planning, execution and coordination of all phase of large and complex programs in RCA is typically assigned to a single individual, the Program Manager.”

The remaining pages detail “the individual systems which comprised WEDCOMM.”  These are Television and Wideband Systems, Telephone System, Computer System, Automatic Monitoring and Control System, Automatic Test, Hotel/Motel Room Communications, and Mobile Communications.

Next up we see a chart detailing the planned timeline for WDW Milestones from 12/68 - 10/71 as the park was built...

Next is another image of Progress City in a page called “Walt Disney World in 1981” which says in part “Walt Disney World in the decade following its opening will be the result of a coalition of productive forces set in motion by Walt Disney. RCA, in its proposed role as a major participant for Walt Disney’s World’s information-communication system, has jointly defined with Disney a system … WEDCOMM .. that will facilitate continuous evolution of new and better ways of American life.”  The end pages of the document detail how WEDCOMM will play a role at WDW in 1981.

An earlier entry here on Disney Avenue which you can find by clicking HERE concluded that WEDCOMM was never implemented, which is unfortunate because it sounded very impressive. Thankfully we have such a detailed record of an item that was never realized and seldom discussed.

I have more documents about Disney projects that never happened which I will share in future posts. See you soon!

- Ted Linhart,


Ted Linhart was born and raised in New York City and works at NBC Universal where he is an SVP of Research for the company’s cable networks. Ted has a passion for television and has long been a collector of many items. He is also quite passionate about the Disney Parks and, in particular, Walt Disney’s view of the future which was cemented the first time he went on Horizons in 1985. Over the past several years, Ted has been collecting letters, documents, brochures and other ephemera relating to the history, construction, and evolution of Disneyland, Disney World and EPCOT. Ted started posting pictures of his collection via his Twitter account @TedonTV and followers started asking him to post more pictures online.  That led Ted to create his blog where pictures of each of his items are archived.

You can find all of Ted's article here.

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