When it comes to theme parks, Disney has a reputation for creating the happiest and most magical places on Earth. This is especially true for the company’s Mecca in central Florida—Walt Disney World.
What began as Walt’s “Florida Project” back in the mid-1960s is now one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet. But this didn’t happen by accident.
The story of how Walt Disney created his Florida park is the stuff of legend. He bought land in secret, petitioned the Florida legislature to create a special district with its own Disney government, and he even hired the former governor of the Panama Canal Zone to create the park’s “Mosquito Surveillance Program.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Despite being built “in the middle of the Florida swamps,” Walt Disney World doesn’t have mosquitoes. So, what is the real story behind this Disney Park secret? Why are there no mosquitoes at Disney World?
Florida Has A ‘Mosquito Season’
If you’re not from the south, you might not be familiar with the mosquito issues that many residents in southern states have to deal with every year. Mosquito problems are common in states like Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas. But by far, the worst state for mosquitoes is Florida.
As Inside the Magic points out, Florida has a ton of swamp land. And the state’s “mosquito season” pretty much runs the entire year. The worst months are in the spring and summer, when warm temperatures combine with frequent rain. These conditions allow the mosquito population to grow extremely fast.
Of course, the spring and summer months are the height of Disney’s tourist season. If you and your family head to central Florida during that time of the year, packing plenty of mosquito repellant is a must. After all, mosquito-borne diseases like the West Nile Virus, the Zika virus, and malaria can come from a single bite.
But once you step inside the confines of Walt Disney World, your mosquito bite worries will instantly fade away. Who should park goers thank for this? The answer is Retired Army Major General William E. Potter, or “Joe” Potter for short.
Who Was Joe Potter?
Walt Disney opened his first theme park—Southern California’s Disneyland—in 1955. It was a huge success, which prompted Walt to start thinking about doing the same thing on the East Coast. But the subsequent sprawl of trashy businesses around Disneyland made Walt realize he needed to change his approach. He needed a larger piece of land for his second park, so he could control what was around it.
With the help of lawyers who had no idea who their client was, Walt purchased the 27,000 acres that make up Disney World for $5 million. At the time, the property was nothing more than hot, humid swampland and orange groves.
After his purchase, Walt started campaigning for control of the land (which he eventually got). He also met Retired Army Major General William E. Potter—AKA “Joe” Potter—at the 1964 World’s Fair.
Potter was an engineering expert and graduate of MIT who had worked as the governor of the Panama Canal Zone—an area notorious for its mosquitoes. While working that job, Potter learned all about pest control and became a mosquito expert. Walt decided to hire him on the spot to be in charge of mosquito control for his new “Florida Project.”
Joe’s Techniques To Get Rid Of Mosquitos
Joe Potter brought several techniques to Walt Disney World to get rid of the mosquitoes. But his goal wasn’t to commit pest genocide on the adults. Instead, it was to prevent the mosquitoes from getting into the park in the first place.
To do this, Potter knew he needed to target the larvae. So, he decided to make Walt Disney World an inhospitable place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
No Stagnant Water
Potter knew that mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing, stagnant water because it’s the perfect breeding ground. So, his first step was to get rid of standing water by draining the swamp around the Magic Kingdom so he could eliminate the pests.
Then, when Walt Disney World was being built, Potter made sure that the park used flowing water. He oversaw the construction of drainage ditches throughout the property that would remove any water before it could pool in different areas and become stagnant.
To this day, these ditches are known as “Joe Ditches” and they are still in use at Walt Disney World. If they look for it, guests will see that water at the park is constantly moving. There are no areas of standing water in Walt Disney World, which makes it almost impossible for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.
Unique Building And Garden Designs
Another method used to prevent mosquitoes at Disney World was intentional design. According to Disney historian and Top Disney author Christopher Lucas, the buildings and gardens were designed to counter mosquitoes.
“They made every building there curved, or designed in a way so there’d be no place for the water to catch and sit there,” Lucas told Reader’s Digest.
The park’s landscapers also prioritize plants and flowers that won’t let water pool. They use plants with leaves that won’t harbor the stagnant water and instead allow the water to roll off and keep moving.
Joe also directed groundskeepers to stock the ponds on the property with goldfish, minnows, and “mosquito fish” that eat mosquito larvae regularly.
No Pesticides, Garlic Spray Only
Walt Disney didn’t want any pesticides in his park, and he made that clear to Potter. To adapt to this request, the retired general used only natural insect repellants. Most notably, he started the use of liquid garlic spray—which still continues today.
Since mosquitoes can’t stand the smell of garlic, Disney workers spray it all around the park in small enough amounts that visitors don’t notice. But the mosquitoes stay far away.