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Know Disney? – General “Joe” Potter

In this series, Know Disney?, blogger Kendall Foreman will introduce readers to aspects of the Walt Disney Company®, its films, history, and parks that are possibly heretofore unknown to the reader. 

General Joe - kfUpon hearing the name General “Joe” Potter, many knowledgeable WDW aficionados would recognize it and be able to tell you that one of the three ferries traveling between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Magic Kingdom® Park is named after him.   What some of them may not know is what he did to be worthy of having one the most utilized and sizeable modes of transportation in all of WDW bear his name?

General William E. “Joe” Potter was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National War College and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During the 1950s, he was governor of the Panama Canal Zone and was President of the Panama Canal Co.  He also served for 38 years in the Army Corp of Engineers, and in the 1960s he was afforded the opportunity to act as second in command of construction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

There, Potter met and became friends with Walt Disney, who would later call on him to take the 25,000 acre swampland, pasture and woods of Central Florida and build an infrastructure that would support what would eventually become Walt Disney World®.  At the time, many of the citizens of Central Florida saw the task as insurmountable and scoffed at the idea of a private entity building its own power station, sewage treatment, water plant, emergency services, roads, bridges, etc.

The Walt Disney Company, with the approval of the Florida state government, created the special taxing-district known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was given the same governmental authority that rests with a county government such as the ability to issue building permits, maintain infrastructure, provide water and power services, etc.   General Potter was selected as the District Administrator and President of the Board of Supervisors for the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Many might say that, had Potter not been at the helm of the massive project, the skepticism of many Central Floridians might well have been validated, especially their belief that it would take years upon years to build, test and complete the WDW infrastructure.  Amazingly, the entire process took just three years, and the naysayers continue to be proven wrong to this very day.

In Potter’s obituary, written by Kirsten Gallagher for the Orlando Sentinel, Dick Nunis—the then president of Walt Disney World Attractions—expressed  high praise for General Joe when he said, “He was a man Walt Disney was very fond of…Without a Joe Potter there would be no Walt Disney World today.”  Now, on your next trip across the Seven Seas Lagoon aboard the General Joe Potter ferry, not only will you know a little more about its namesake; perhaps, you will sense a greater awareness and appreciation of the immense undertaking assigned to and accomplished in such a short time by General William “Joe” Potter.

(Photo from the personal family collection of Kendall Foreman.)

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Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband.  As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7)  Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)