As Walt Disney’s original Imagineer, Roger Broggie built everything from steam locomotives to electronic robots that could sing and dance. Gifted with mechanical genius, there wasn’t anything Roger couldn’t do or figure out how to do. He epitomized the essence of Disney Imagineering—“the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how.”
When Roger was honored at the Disney Legends Awards on October 18, 1990, company Chairman Michael Eisner said, “Any mechanical things you had to do, what you said was, ‘Call Roger, he’ll know how to fix it.’ Without him, Disneyland wouldn’t have happened.”
Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1908, Roger graduated from Mooseheart High School in Illinois in 1927. Having received vocational machine shop training, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked for such companies as Technicolor and Bell and Howell. In 1932, he built and operated a rear-projection system for Teague Process Company at General Service Studios. During this period, Roger worked on films for Walter Wanger, David O. Selznick, and Charlie Chaplin.
By invitation of a friend who worked at Disney, Roger joined the Studio as a precision machinist in 1939. Among his first assignments was installing the complicated multiplane animation camera equipment at Disney’s new Burbank lot. He later worked closely with fellow Disney Legend Ub Iwerks to develop rear-screen special effects, camera cranes, and high-speed optical printers.
In 1949, Roger helped Walt build his own miniature trains in the Studio Machine Shop and went on to install Walt’s backyard railroad at his Holmby Hills home. Later, Roger was instrumental in developing the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad in Anaheim.
Roger was promoted to head of the Studio Machine Shop in 1950. Under his able direction, the shop’s responsibilities expanded in four years from creating special effects for films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to producing attractions for Disneyland. These included the Monorail system and Matterhorn Bobsleds, as well as new film processes and techniques like Circle-Vision 360—a motion picture format with screens that completely surround the audience.
In 1951, Walt assigned Roger to work on “Project Little Man;” along with fellow Imagineer Wathel Rogers, Roger constructed a nine-inch tall figure of a man that moved and talked; it became the prototype of Audio-Animatronics® technology. In 1963, Roger and his department completed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the first application of Audio-Animatronics technology to a life-sized human figure. The show premiered at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
In 1973, Roger turned his attention to planning for EPCOT Center until, after dedicating more than 35 years to the Company, he retired in 1975. The Walt Disney World Railroad steam engine No. 3 is named the Roger E. Broggie in his honor.
Roger Broggie passed away on November 4, 1991, in Los Angeles.