Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Art History

Major Professor

Bradley Nickels, Ph.D.


Walt Disney, Utopia, Urban planning, Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Ford, World fairs


While political praise and condemnation of Disney is commonplace in the literature, my research will focus instead on the origination of Disney's design plan for Disneyland and the theoretical and physical connections between key historical figures and the finished product. I will not consider what Disneyland means to the world today---that is a subject many others have covered, some even brilliantly; instead, I will consider what social concepts contributed to the initial design in an attempt to see the underlying values at work in this post-modern utopia. In this thesis, I intend to show that Walt Disney's initial design for Disneyland was influenced by Ebenezer Howard's Garden City concept. In addition to Howard's vision, Disney also incorporated concepts from Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and Henry Ford's mass market manufacturing theories.

I do not intend to claim that these are the only influences on Disney's initial plan for his amusement park, but I will show that the physical layout of the park reflects Howard's Garden City plan, the architecture considers some of Wright's designs, and the way the park is run incorporates some of the ideas of Henry Ford. I have purposely avoided any works that consider the corporate aspects of Disney and the current Disney Corporation. Instead, I have focused my research on the intentions surrounding Disney's initial design plan. My position is that Disney's parks are real, successful, and expanding internationally - not mere fantasy like earlier 19th social reformers whose actual accomplishments are relatively small and have not been not sustainable locally or internationally. Disney realized the importance of a TEMPORARY place rather than a PERMANENT residence.

Disney understood the literal definition of utopia to mean "no where" and therefore did not create a utopia that was a real place. Both Howard and Disney sought to offer a utopia. Howard had hopes of revitalizing the social order with his new cities, and Disney hoped to offer the average family a place where they could have fun and enjoy one another in a safe and entertaining environment.