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Colloquium: William Watkins

Bourns Hall A265

Engineering Thrills: A Lifetime of Amusement Ride Design

William Watkins
BME, Ohio State University
Former Chief Mechanical Engineer
Walt Disney Imagineering

William Watkins will share his memories of the design and construction of Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Watkins was Project Engineer and Chief Mechanical Engineer in charge of ride design at WED (Disney) Enterprises until 1985. He then co-founded Ride & Show Engineering in San Dimas, which produced ride systems in the U.S., Japan, England and China.


  • BME degree from Ohio State Univ., 1953
  • Research Engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corp. in Burbank until 1958 (Testing aircraft components)
  • Design Engineer at The Marquart Corp. in Van Nuys until 1961.  (Test equipment for a nuclear ramjet test facility)
  • Design Engineer and Field Project Manager at Honeywell Inc. in West Covina (NASA and Navy test facilities) until 1966.
  • Project Engineer and Chief Mechanical Engineer at WED Enterprises (Disney) in Glendale until 1985. (Ride design including Space Mountain and Big Thunder Railway; In charge of all ride design for EPCOT)
  • Executive VP and co-founder of Ride & Show Engineering in San Dimas until retirement in 1993.(Ride systems in the US, Japan, England, & China)
  • Received the Charles Kettering Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ohio State Univ. Mechanical Engineering Dept. in 2008.
  • Presenting a 4-day course on roller coaster design to 71 engineering students at OSU from 4/13 to 4/16/2009.
  • Presenting a Sigma Xi lecture about theme park design for a general audience at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester , Minn. on 4/21/2009.