Destination D23–50 Years of Bringing Home the Magic

For 50 years guests have been visiting the “Vacation Kingdom of the World,” making memories to last a lifetime. With the Walt Disney Archives being founded in 1970, the year before Walt Disney World Resort opened, founder and Disney Legend Dave Smith knew how significant the opening of the resort would be for the Company and thoroughly captured the momentous occasion with everything from tickets and maps to advertising ephemera and menus, and, of course… merchandise!

Walt Disney World merchandise has always been more than just something to be purchased—it’s a tangible reminder of specific memories tied to “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” This chronological exhibition provides a glimpse into Walt Disney World Resort past and present through several merchandise memories that bring the magic home with us. While it’s impossible for the Archives to have saved every piece of resort merchandise created, the goal has always been to have a sampling of key objects to exemplify a given point in time. These exhibit displays represent some of the most iconic and collectible pieces from over the years, showcasing the trends of the times and key celebrations, all set to evocative shopping-bag-graphic backdrops of the decade.

We hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane with Walt Disney Archives Presents: 50 Years of Bringing Home the Magic.

Even before the Walt Disney World Resort opened, curious fans began purchasing select merchandise in January 1970 with the opening of the Walt Disney World Preview Center. Some of the most popular “before park opening” products included the first souvenir guidebook, various groovy hats like Donald Duck with a squeaking bill, and extra-long pencils with character toppers.

Walt Disney World 1970s merchandise including pencils, toppers and mugs
Walt Disney World 1970s bobble-heads and Orange Bird bank
Walt Disney World 1970s merchandise including Donald Duck squeaking bill hat

The 1980s brought the opening of two new tubular theme parks to Walt Disney World Resort, EPCOT Center (currently known as EPCOT) in 1982 and the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park (currently known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in 1989. Upon opening, the wide range of newly created characters and logos for EPCOT made for some of the most unique Disney merchandise ever created and remain fan favorites to this day.

Walt Disney World 1980s merchandise including Figment
Walt Disney World 1980s merchandise including Kitchen Kaberet plush

From figurines to fanny packs, many fly merchandise trends came out of the 1990s. Mix these with Walt Disney World 20th and 25th anniversary celebrations, and you get light-up visors and sparkling snow globes. The opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in 1998 brought a new type of merchandise into the Disney world, focusing on nature and the park’s icon, the Tree of Life.

Walt Disney World 1990s merchandise including various Mickey Mouse Ears hats
Walt Disney World 1990s merchandise including Anniversary and Animal Kingdom merchandise

2000s & 2010s
As time progresses and technology evolves, so, too, has Walt Disney World merchandise offerings —electric monorails race around tracks, interactive Mickey plush share fun facts about theme parks, and even park tickets are a fashion statement with the creation of MagicBands in 2013. The 2000s helped to further turn collecting merchandise into an activity with the introduction of Pin Trading during the Millennium Celebration and later continued with the Vinylmation craze. Classic Minnie Mouse ear headbands became more popular than ever with the start of color collections like Rose Gold and Millennium Pink, perfectly pairing with fan favorite spirit jerseys.

Walt Disney World 2000s merchandise including MagicBands
Walt Disney World 2000s merchandise including Vinylmation

50th Anniversary
The Walt Disney Archives collection is constantly growing; the celebrations of today are history captured for tomorrow. When it comes to significant anniversaries—like “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” for the resort’s 50th—saving examples of related merchandise is imperative for the future understanding of the resort’s past, serving as research for the Company to build from and nostalgia for audiences to look back on and enjoy.

Walt Disney World 50th merchandise

Dream-Catching Machine
Originally used to collect sparks of imagination with Dreamfinder and his pal Figment, this Dream-Catching Machine was first seen when the EPCOT attraction Journey Into Imagination opened March 5, 1983. After the original incarnation of the attraction closed in 1998, it was moved to the shopping location Mouse Gear to delight Guests as a bit of “easter egg” set décor. The Dream-Catching Machine became one of the Walt Disney Archives’ newest acquisitions when it was removed for the shop’s re-imagining in 2020.

Walt Disney World Dream-Catching Machine