Walt Disney once said, “At WED, we call it imagineering—the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.” The “imagine” part of the process is often celebrated; less so is the solid engineering skill that makes dreams real.
Don Edgren, a professional engineer licensed in the states of California, Florida, and Hawaii, worked for Wheeler & Gray, Structural Engineers, at The Walt Disney Studios on the structural design and detail of Disneyland from late 1954 until the Park opened on July 17, 1955. “He was the original chief engineer ‘in the field’—on the construction sites,” recalled Marty Sklar, former international ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering and a Disney Legend.
Don then coordinated structural design and detail from the Wheeler & Gray office on Disneyland expansion until June of 1961.
“After his ‘engineering baptism’ at Disneyland in the early days,” Marty said, “he was invited to join the staff of WED Enterprises in Glendale.”
Don worked as a project engineer on the Ford Motor Company exhibit for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, and lived in New York during the construction of the Ford facility and the installation of the Magic Skyway show and ride from March 1963 to April 1964.
Don led the Imagineering engineering team for New Orleans Square and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, while also participating in the initial master planning for Walt Disney World in Florida. Don was promoted to vice president, engineering in Florida in 1969, and relocated there in August of that year as head of field engineering efforts.
Don returned to WED in Glendale in April of 1972 as vice president of engineering. He led the Imagineering engineers on the first Space Mountain, built for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in December 1974, after which he left Disney briefly.
Returning to WED in May 1979 as director of engineering for Tokyo Disneyland, Don coordinated all engineering design activities, relocating to Japan in September of 1979. He returned stateside to WED in May 1983, where he was responsible for the direction and supervision of all project engineers.
Don retired from The Walt Disney Company in 1987.
“Through the years, Imagineering had what I would respect as two ‘quintessential engineering captains’—Don Edgren and a protege of his, John Zovich,” Marty once said. “They were constantly challenged by Walt, and the creative teams that followed (including me!), to do things that sometimes defied ‘engineering logic’ —and, of course, tried and true methods. Because, as Walt said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!’”
Don Edgren passed away on December 28, 2007, in Eugene, Oregon.