Disney’s America: A Star-Spangled Flop


Jessica Vanderbeck

Disney’s America will truly go down in history.

Jessica Vanderbeck, Reporter

Over the years, the Walt Disney Company has provided us with many things we hold close to our hearts. From tear-jerking films to thrilling roller coasters, Disney has something for everyone. But not all of their ideas make it into our hands and hearts. And in the early 1990s, Disney attempted to create one of their most ambitious projects yet, combining that magic they’re known for with education. This is the story of Disney’s America, the U.S. History themed park that was chased out of the history books it claimed to promote.

Disney’s America was first announced in 1993, headed by newly appointed CEO Michael Eisner. Eisner had gotten the idea for the park after visiting Colonial Williamsburg just a few years prior. The project had been approved by George Allen, the incoming Governor of Virginia. Locals also supported the project because of the jobs it would create. More specifically, the park would have created nearly 2,000 jobs and generated millions in tax revenue.

The park itself would have been split into sections, all themed after different eras of United States History. Proposed exhibits would have included a whitewater rafting ride based on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a replica of the Ellis Island building, and opportunities for guests to experience American Agriculture. Disney’s America would have allowed guests to stay in hotel rooms located directly on park grounds, which would have made it the first park to do so.

However, as the project progressed, opposition was building. The park would have been located in close proximity to the Manassas National Battlefield Park. While the placement of the park was meant to encourage visitors to enjoy the park before visiting actual monuments, many found Disney’s portrayal of American history as merry and bright compared to an actual battlefield as insensitive. Bob Weis, who was senior vice president of the company, had also stated that the park would “make you feel what it was like to be a slave, or what it was like to escape through the underground railroad.” Many people took issue with this statement, and for good reason.

Upon this sour reaction from the public, the company attempted to rebrand the park. This new plan was titled “Disney’s American Celebration,” as the previous name was accused of trying to “commercialize America.” Disney’s American celebration would focus less on history and more on showcasing American culture. The park would have kept the agricultural exhibits and military-based stations. However, these new stations would showcase important moments in American wars and could allow guests to attempt military training. New exhibits would have included factory tours, a replica of Coney Island, and a ride telling the “story of immigration” featuring the Muppets.

Although this plan was discontinued weeks after it was created, some of these concepts still live on. “Land” at Disney’s American Celebration became the Epcot Pavillion of the same name, showcasing ecology and hydroponics. The Lewis and Clark expedition was reworked into the Grizzly River run at Disneyland. In the words of the Disney creative team, known as “Imagineers,” a good idea never dies. And while imagining Kermit explain what refugees are is a little cringy, Disney’s America is a piece of Disney history that should never be forgotten.