Joe Fowler with Walt Disney

Joe Fowler

Pictured above left Joe Fowler

No matter how implausible the task, retired Admiral Joe Fowler got things done. That is why, in 1954, Walt Disney personally invited the retired ship builder to lead construction of his latest dream—Disneyland. Fellow Disney Legend Bob Matheison once recalled a day when Joe and Walt stood looking at a stage in Adventureland, which featured a waterfall and a dressing room off to the side. According to Bob, “Walt turned to Joe and said, ‘I’d like to part the water and let the entertainers come out, and then have the waterfall close behind them.’ Joe never batted an eye. He just said, ‘Can do, can do.’ I know he had no idea how he was going to part the water, but he said it without hesitation—’Can do.’ And, by golly, he did it.”

Born on July 9, 1894, in Lewiston, Maine, Joe graduated second in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1917. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in naval architecture in 1921. A veteran of both world wars, Joe designed and supervised the building of gunboats in Shanghai, China, during the 1920s; he later designed and built aircraft carriers, including the U.S.S. Lexington and the U.S.S. Saratoga, which were the largest aircraft carriers of World War II. He was also in charge of all U.S. Navy work conducted in the West Coast shipyards during World War II.

While with the military, Joe met such notable figures as Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson; he even roomed with Edward, Prince of Wales, on a British gun ship steaming up the Yangtze River. After 35 years with the U.S. Navy, Joe had reached the rank of Rear Admiral and retired in 1948—or so he thought.

Within a few years, not long after celebrating his 60th birthday, Joe met Walt Disney through a mutual friend and soon began his successful 25-year career with Walt Disney Productions.

Joe oversaw construction of Disneyland and went on to manage its operations after it opened. Appropriately, Walt also cast him as technical advisor of the award-winning live-action film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, Joe was charged with the Herculean task of planning and building Walt Disney World. At one point during the Florida project, Joe held three posts, simultaneously: senior vice president, engineering and construction, for Walt Disney Productions; chairman of the board of WED Enterprises, now known as Walt Disney Imagineering; and director of construction for Disney’s Buena Vista Construction Company.

Joe retired from Disney in 1978. He passed away on December 3, 1993, at age 99, in Orlando, Florida. Tributes to the Admiral can still be found in the parks that he helped build; the harbor used as dry dock for Disneyland’s S.S. Columbia and paddle wheeler Mark Twain is dubbed “Fowler’s Harbor,” and features a building known as Fowler’s Inn. At Walt Disney World, one of the ferries that transports guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Magic Kingdom was re-christened the Admiral Joe Fowler in his honor.