The Day the 21st Century Began

The 21st century begins October 1, 1982.

That was the mysterious and exciting tagline used to promote the opening of EPCOT Center, a good 18 years before the actual 21st century would officially begin. It was presumptuous and daring, but also incredibly confident and a bold message that struck at the right time. While EPCOT Center was ultimate a testament to Walt Disney's original vision as well as the modified ideas and dreams of the Walt Disney company and its Imagineers, it also had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time. The world was very much infatuated with the idea of modern futurism, which traded Jules Verne for George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and the pirates of Silicon valley. Major advances in film and music production had created freedoms for their creators to push the art in bold new directions. Computer technology was becoming accessible to the family unit and was starting to be seen beyond the limits of the old DOS interface. A new generation of optimists and dreamers was born to baby boomers and hippies. And a new theme park was being built in Walt Disney World that looked to bottle all that futurism and optimism in a limitless landscape.

EPCOT Center became a product of its time. Had it opened five years earlier or later, it clearly would've been a vastly different theme park. Opening in 1982 was vital to its vision and its acceptance by the public. And endearing itself to the youth born in the 1970s and 1980s has been essential in sustaining its popularity through today. Don't get me wrong, the park is beloved by those born from the 1920s through the 2000s, but it had such a major influence on the generation that was becoming the target of all media and would soon educate itself in what was becoming a new world order. That influence became a shared experience between children and their parents and grandparents and has now been passed on to our own generation's offspring.

Whether it was the promise and progress of Future World or the cultural diversity of World Showcase, EPCOT Center was a hopeful vision of the future and a beautiful embrace of all cultures, a beacon of hope and an embodiment of those times. As much as it was inspired by the technologies and cultures surrounding it, EPCOT itself would inspire people, corporations and countries. It came into our world and settled into the middle of one of the most prominent eras of pop culture, largely because of how unabashedly optimistic EPCOT was.

And that's quite simply how a lot of people felt at the time, long before the age of cynicism. In 1984, I'm an awkward and wide-eyed 10-year-old dreaming of flying on the Millennium Falcon and dancing around my living room, playing air-keyboards to MTV. The foundation of my imagination was informed by prosperity and positivity. So when I walked into EPCOT Center in 1984, I might as well have been going home. EPCOT Center was calling many of us home, which is why this theme park is one of the most passionately discussed topics in the Disney fan community.

EPCOT today struggles with its identity and has eschewed progress and innovation for thrills and corporate synergy, but there are still plenty of remnants of what was there 30 years ago today when it first opened to the public. Amazingly, much of the architecture and design philosophy in EPCOT that day is still very fresh and viable today in 2012. (It's hard to look at Apple products and not think they could be right out of Horizons!) And we continue to further the technological advances introduced in 1982 and are still very much relevant today. It's only unfortunate that Future World couldn't continue to push those barriers further into the future and continue being a city of progress.

While pioneers in so many industries were all looking further down the road to the first day of the 21st century, EPCOT Center was very much a part of that movement, providing an unforgettable experience to millions of people from all over the world. It really was the dawn of a new era, and the very first day of the 21st century.

Join me as we take a look at more EPCOT Center history, sights and sounds, observations, and chats with the community every day to celebrate EPCOT's 30th birthday.