Everyone loves the classic tale of someone who starts at the bottom of the proverbial Totem pole, only to climb and climb through the years until he or she reaches the top. Heck, tons of Disney movies are based on that very concept. When it comes to real-life stories of rising through the ranks from humble beginnings, however, you’ll find few better examples than that of Tony Baxter, Walt Disney Imagineering’s former Senior VP of Creative Development.
Here is a story of how an ice cream scooper, yes, an ice cream scooper, would become one of the most influential figures in the history of The Walt Disney Company.
An Early Adopter
Tony Baxter was born and raised in the perfect scenario to become a Disney fan. He was born in 1947 in Los Angeles, California, just eight years before Disneyland would open its doors in Anaheim for the first time. He was hooked from his first visit, specifically by the famous attraction Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is still operating today.
He applied and was hired for a job scooping ice cream and selling popcorn in the park while he was still a teenager. The wide-eyed child who was mesmerized by the engineering and storytelling of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was officially a Disney employee. He never looked back.
Bigger and Better Things
Baxter enrolled in Cal Poly Ponoma after high school, intending to study landscape architecture. He soon transferred to a larger school in California State University in Long Beach, where he studied Theater Design. During his senior year, he created a portfolio of attraction design concepts, including one for a Mary Poppins ride. Baxter’s work found its way into the hands of the Walt Disney Imagineering department, then known as WED Enterprises.
They were impressed, to say the least, and invited him to a tour of WED Enterprises. Tony Baxter knew then and there what his career path was.
A New Disney Portfolio
Baxter’s career in Disney Imagineering/WED Enterprises can be described as nothing short of iconic. Some of the main Disney projects he designed and/or oversaw the construction of include:
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Journey Into Imagination
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- The Disney Gallery
- Disneyland Paris
Many of Tony Baxter’s attractions, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones Adventure, are still huge draws at various Walt Disney theme parks. Baxter has collected a litany of awards for his work in creative design and construction, including the Themed Entertainment Association (THEA) Lifetime Achieve Award and the DFC Disney Legend Award. He was officially declared a Disney Legend in 2013, and his name can now be seen on one of the Main Street, U.S.A. windows in Disneyland.
Tony Baxter is a prime example of one of Walt Disney Company’s core principles; that anyone, no matter their position, can make a positive impact and move their way up the professional ladder. Though he retired in 2013 after a 47-year run, his presence can still be felt as a part-time creative advisor, imparting his singular wisdom on the next generation of Disney Imagineers.
Oswald & Sons is proud to shine a light on success stories like that of Tony Baxter. Be on the lookout for some merch honoring this Disney Legend very soon…
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