Disney World’s early years & the 1970s energy crisis

BAY LAKE, Fla. — In October 1971, Disney opened Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and it was a success.

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Walt Disney’s vision of creating an east coast Disneyland to attract tourists from east of the Mississippi River was working; tourists were traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit Orlando.

Then a problem.

“Yeah, it looked great in October of 1971 and ‘72, but in ‘73, we had the gas crisis,” former cast member Duncan Dickson said. “Not only did gas prices go up, but you couldn’t get gas. There were lines at the gas stations -- very, very long lines.”

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Disney relied on roads for tourists to be able to get to its theme park.

In fact, the main reason Walt Disney chose to build in the area is because of its proximity to the interchange of Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 4.

Those roads would be important, because unlike Disneyland, which drew its guest from the huge population centers of Southern California, Walt Disney World would need people to drive to it.

In late 1973, that became significantly harder to do.

The OPEC oil embargo went into effect in October 1973 and lasted for six months.

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In that time, Disney saw attendance and its stock price drop.

The resort took several steps to limit the damage by releasing seasonal workers and shelving many construction projects, including two new hotels.

While other Central Florida theme parks and hotels did not survive the embargo, Disney did; and in doing so was forced to diversify its business, putting more emphasis on other sectors beyond the parks -- a move that has helped protect the parks and the company during other external events.

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