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Two Men Who Helped Turn a Swamp into the Most Magical Place on Earth

For the first two weeks of February 2016, the WDW Radio Blog Team will be reviewing great moments in Disney History. These moments have impacted the history of the company through film, parks, innovation, events and more.


If12654277_10207841372979569_2546169881600937482_n you’ve ever taken the ferry boat between the Transportation and Ticket Center and Magic Kingdom Park, chances are you’ve seen the names Admiral Joe Fowler and General Joe Potter. Two of the three ferry boats are named for these men, but who are they?

They were high ranking members of the military, as indicated by their ranks included on the nameplates. These men were instrumental in the construction of Walt Disney World Resort in the 1960s. Without their expertise, there is a good chance that central Florida would be swampland to this day, instead of our favorite vacation destination.

Rear Admiral Joe Fowler served in the United States Navy during both World Wars, and held a Master’s Degree in naval architecture. After he retired from the Navy, Fowler was involved in building housing and overseeing the San Francisco Naval Yard when Walt came to recruit him in 1954. Walt needed help with the construction of Disneyland Park, and Fowler was hired to lead the rushed construction of the park. Afterward, Fowler stayed on as General Manager of Disneyland Park.

Major General William “Joe” Potter served in the United States Army, was an expert in civil engineering, and served as governor of the Panama Canal Zone. He was the executive vice president of the 1964 World’s Fair, where he met Walt.

We all know the basic story of Walt Disney World Resort – Walt was upset with the lack of control he had on the area surrounding Disneyland Resort. He wanted to find a place to build his Disney World and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. After considering several locations around the country, he settled on central Florida. This area would allow his theme park to be open year-round due to the climate, and the convergence of several interstate roads meant it would be easy to get to from anywhere. The only problem was the land was seemingly useless swampland. Because of this, Walt initially was able to purchase some of the land at low prices – until the word got out that it was he that was purchasing the land, and then the prices skyrocketed. Unfortunately, Walt passed away in 1966 and never saw his Florida Project break ground.

When Roy O. Disney decided to move forward on the project, he turned to a team of Imagineers, including Fowler and Potter. Admiral Fowler created the plan to build a series of utilidors under the ground level of Magic Kingdom Park, building on top of the land so that Main Street, U.S.A. wo12651272_10207841398940218_8243348777164695757_nuld actually be the second level. General Potter was charged with finding a way to provide the resort with power and water, no small feat considering the nearest high-voltage power supply was located more than 15 miles away, and the neighboring Orange and Osceola counties didn’t have the capacity to supply the necessary amount of water. After the successful construction, Potter served as the first District Administrator for Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The next time you find yourself riding aboard the Admiral Joe Fowler or the General Joe Potter, take a look around and enjoy the fruits of their labor. It is due to their expertise, as well as the vision of many other Imagineers, that Walt Disney World Resort is what it is today.

(Photos used with permission from James Cameron.)

Joshua Shusterman is United States Marine and has been stationed in both North Carolina and Hawaii.  He is an avid Disney fan, and has taken several trips to Walt Disney World as well as Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, and Disneyland Resort.  He has extensively researched military discount programs and offers from The Walt Disney Company, and loves to spread the word to his fellow service members.  He can be reached on Twitter @JLShusterman or email at JLShusterman@Gmail.com.