Person of the Century
Epcot Archives

Who is the Person of the Century? We may never know.

I recently received the following email:

Dear Lou...
I remember casting a vote in Epcot somewhere for the Man of the Millennium or something like that... what was that for?

Ah, yes…. EPCOT Center in the early 1990s… I remember it, well... for the most part, anyway.

EPCOT Center (yes, that's what is was called back then), was still trying to define itself. Far from being the fantasy world that the Magic Kingdom laid claim to be, it was a character-less, shiny compilation of pavilions which seemed to focus less on entertaining than they were informing. "So, wait a second, mom… you're taking me to Walt Disney World to LEARN?! It's my summer vacation!" Well, that was part of Disney's new park's problem - how to convince people that it wasn't part educational and part world's fair.

One of the things Disney wanted to do with their "new" park was add a dimension that the Magic Kingdom did not posses (save for maybe firing a rifle at the Frontierland Shootin' Arcade) - being interactive. So, in an effort to give Guests a more hands-on experience, many of the pavilions and attractions had exhibits which allowed Guests to touch and control. In fact, they had an entire pavilion devoted solely to these type of exhibits, while still demonstrating the modern technologies that Future World aimed to showcase.

CommuniCore (short for Community Core), was located behind Spaceship Earth in two buildings, and in 1994, was transformed into what is now Innoventions. Presented by Bell Systems, it featured a number of interactive, "futuristic" exhibits highlighting advances in networking, communications, computers and more. In CommuniCore West featured demonstrations of travel services from American Express, Exxon's Energy Exchange, and an ongoing, interactive poll with quite a grandiose title.

On January 14, 1990, guests could begin to cast their vote in CommuniCore for the "Person of the Century," from a list of 89 nominees. Conducted at various kiosks, the poll asked visitors to cast votes based on who they felt was the most influential person over the past 90 years. Some of the nominees included Thomas Edison, Mikhail Gorbachev, Michael Jackson, Lucille Ball, Winston Churchill, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa. Guests could also (for a short time), write in their own nominations.

Just 4 months after the voting began, Disney announced what nominees were leading the voting. In alphabetical order, they were: the Beatles, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Mikhail Gorbachev, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The poll was supposed to run until January 1, 2000, when Michael Eisner would announce the winner in a television special. Had the recipient no longer been alive, he would have given the award to his or her descendants. However, after a little more than a year, the machines were unceremoniously removed from Communicore, and the "Person of the Century" voting disappeared faster than... well... FAST!

Rumors surrounded the demise of the "Person of the Century" award. Many people credit the "write-ins" by guests which included themselves, "Bugs Bunny," and I'm sure you can only imagine what other interesting votes were cast. The real reason the voting booths were removed is thanks to none other than the Cast Members themselves! The story goes like this: The employees... I mean, "Cast Members" at Epcot thought it would be funny if they all wrote-in the same person's name - allegedly of another Cast Member. Well, I guess these guys had a lot of free time, because before you know it, the write-ins got out of hand and their phantom nominee was moving high up the rankings - and FAST! Well, it wasn't long before Disney execs found out about this, and needless to say, they weren't pleased. Things only got worse when they found out that although they could remove the mystery name, they would also wipe out the rest of the 18 months' worth of votes! So, hoping that no one would notice and no one would ever ask - Disney literally pulled the plug on the whole thing in March of 1991!

Sadly and even more strangely, Disney never commented on the poll, the "winner" or even who a projected winner may have been.

By Lou Mongello
Author of the "Walt Disney World Trivia Book: Secrets, History & Fun Facts Behind the Magic"