In 1959, the Walt Disney Company, under the leadership of Walt Disney, began looking for land for a second resort to supplement Disneyland, which had opened in Anaheim, California in 1955. Market surveys revealed that only 2% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, where 75% of the population of the United States lived. Additionally, Walt Disney disliked the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wanted control of a much larger area of land for the new project.
Walt Disney first flew over the Orlando site (one of many) on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He first flew over and appealed to the Sanford, Florida city council to allow him to build Disney World in Sanford, but his appeal was declined. The citizens of Sanford did not want the crime that was sure to come with tourism. He saw the well-developed network of roads, including Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike, with McCoy Air Force Base (later Orlando International Airport) to the east, and immediately fell in love with the site. When later asked why he chose it, he said, "the freeway routes, they bisect here." Walt Disney focused most of his attention on the "Florida Project", both before and after his participation at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, but he died on December 15, 1966, five years before his vision was realized.
To avoid a burst of land speculation, Disney used various dummy corporations and cooperative individuals to acquire 27,400 acres (110 km², 43 mi²) of land. The first five-acre (20,000 m², 217400 ft²) lot was bought on October 23, 1964, by the Ayefour Corporation (a pun on Interstate 4). Another dummy corporation name which land was bought under was RETLAW which spelled backwards is WALTER. Others were also used with a second or secret meanings which add to the lore of the Florida Project, including M.T. Lott Real Estate Investments (pronounced empty lot).
In May 1965, major land transactions were recorded a few miles southwest of Orlando in Osceola County. Two large tracts totaling $1.5 million were sold, and smaller tracts of flatlands and cattle pastures were purchased by exotic-sounding companies such as the Latin-American Development and Management Corporation and the Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation. In addition to three huge parcels of land were many smaller parcels, referred to as "outs."
Much of the land had been platted into five-acre (20,000 m², 217400 ft²) lots in 1912 by the Munger Land Company and sold to investors. In most cases, the owners were happy to get rid of the land, which was mostly swampland. Yet another problem was the mineral rights to the land, owned by Tufts University. Without the transfer of these rights, Tufts could come in at any time and demand the removal of buildings to obtain minerals.
After most of the land had been bought, the truth of the property's owner was leaked to the Orlando Sentinel on October 20, 1965. A press conference soon was organized for November 15. At the presentation, Walt Disney explained the plans for the site, including EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which was to be a futuristic city (and which was also known as Progress City). Plans for EPCOT would drastically change after Disney's death. EPCOT became EPCOT Center, the resort's second theme park, which opened in 1982. Concepts from the original idea of EPCOT would be integrated into the community of Celebration much later.
The Reedy Creek Drainage District was incorporated on May 13, 1966 under Florida State Statutes Chapter 298, which gives powers including eminent domain to special Drainage Districts. To create the District, only the support of the landowners within was required.