Sunday, July 24, 2011

How a Single Decision Affected Millions

Photo Credit: Gambarrotti
Being a resident of Orlando, Florida, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, it is hard to believe that it wasn't that long ago that central Florida was made up of orange groves and cow pastures and not much else.

But the vision of a single man, Walt Disney, dramatically altered the city of Orlando and his decision to create a "Disneyland East" affected the lives of millions of people for generations to come.

Not too long ago, I read a book, Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney and Orlando by Richard E. Foglesong, that lays out the history of how "The City Beautiful" became the choice for Disney World and describes the economic and social impact that resulted.  One of the most compelling portions of the book is when Foglesong shares how it was another city, St. Louis, that came dramatically close to becoming the home of Disney World.

Disney executives had learned through marketing research that only 2% of their visitors to Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, came from east of the Mississippi River, yet 75% of the American population resided east of the Mississippi.  They realized that they were missing out on a substantial source of financial profit by not having a theme park in the eastern part of the country.  Plans were made to secure a location farther east and St. Louis was close to getting the bid.

The night before the papers were to be signed, a big dinner party was held for all those involved.  One of the sticking points of the agreement had been that Walt Disney did not want alcohol served on the property of his theme park.  As a family oriented venture, he did not want beer and liquor to affect the environment he was hoping to create.  In a city known for its beer, not everyone agreed with Disney's perspective and one throwaway comment changed everything.

This is how Foglesong recounts it:
"It was there the offending remark was made. "Any man who thinks he can design an attraction that is going to be a success in this city and not serve beer or liquor, ought to have his head examined," said the head of the city's leading business.  Hearing the remark, the mayor gasped, "Oh, my [gosh]."  He turned to Admiral Joe Fowler [the vice president for construction who had built Disneyland], and apologized, saying, "I just can't control that guy."

But the damage was done.  Walt hated being challenged, especially in public.  Upon returning for the dinner party to his hotel suite, he asked Card Walker, another Disney vice president, "What time can we have the plane in the morning?"  Surprised, Walker responded, "But you know we've got --" He tried to say they had legal papers to sign the next day, but Walt cut him off."  "It's all finished," said Walt.  "We're not coming.  Forget about it."  Afterward, local bankers made three trips to California trying to change Walt's mind, all unsuccessful.  August (Gussie) Busch, Jr.'s insulting remark had killed the deal -- Disney World would not be in St. Louis.

...The events that evening changed the history of two cities.  For the beer baron was like the guilty party in a broken engagement: in repulsing the Disney fiancee, he enabled another city to win her.  The failure of the first relationship facilitated the second one."
An offhand comment and a major decision by a wealthy business owner changed the history of countless people.  Had Disney World not come to Orlando, other theme parks likely wouldn't have followed.  The ministry I work with, Campus Crusade for Christ International, probably would not have relocated our international headquarters to Orlando and I wouldn't be living here.

Though few of us enjoy the stature of a Walt Disney, our decisions affect the lives of other people.  Where we choose to live (or not live), the person we choose to marry (or not marry) and the people we choose to interact with (or ignore) have the potential to affect history.  Even changing the name of a ministry in order to be more effective on mission matters.  Our lives matter and everything we do affects others, whether we realize it or not.  Are you living today with eternity in mind?


Kaye said...

Scott, this post was timely for me as we have recently been discussing a possible relocation.

Again my commendations on your faithfulness to the blog and the good job you do with it.

Beacon2Light said...

That's quite a story, Scott. Thanks for sharing. A member of our ministerium here is a Campus Crusade fellow, Brad Daubenspeck.

God bless your work and this blog. May He use both to His glory.

kpo88 said...

I live about 80 miles south of St.Louis in Southern Illinois and this is the first time I had ever heard this story. Wow..we were so close. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your blog.