There is no denying the significance of the 1964/1965 NY World’s Fair to Disney and the company’s history. Walt Disney and his team designed four attractions for several pavilions around the Fair – the Carousel Theater of Progress, it’s a small world, Ford’s Magic Skyway, and Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. Incredible breakthroughs were made in the technology used to bring these attractions to life, which left a massive stamp on later attractions at Disney Parks around the world. The four attractions debuted on April 22, 1964 at the World’s Fair, exactly 50 years ago, today!
One of the biggest game-changers was the development of Audio-Animatronics, described by Walt as a new type of animation, which could be seen right before your eyes, fully realized in 3D, without the use of a screen. Of course, if you have taken a ride on Splash Mountain or numerous other attractions built at Disney theme parks, you have seen a wealth of these figures that move and emulate characters. However, in the 1960s, they were a novel concept, used as the basis for the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and all four Disney attractions at the Fair.
Another major development was a large increase in the volume of guests that could be accommodated at once. Although it may seem mundane, the idea that 1,000 people would be able to experience an attraction at the same time was huge for Disney in that era. it’s a small world, with its boat system that transported visitors slowly through while also entertaining them, paved the way for Pirates of the Caribbean, a ride that is still a marvel to this day.
Then, there was the creation of the Abraham Lincoln audio-animatronic figure for Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, which had viewers second-guessing whether the role was actually being played by an actor on stage. Never before had a non-living being appeared so realistic, live in front of an audience. Admittedly, you would be able to tell the difference today, but the figure, with its intricate movements, left people stunned at the unbelievable technology.
All the attractions can still be experienced in some degree to this day:
- Carousel of Progress – originally relocated to Disneyland following its debut at the Fair, the attraction settled at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on the east coast with the opening of the park in 1971
- it’s a small world – relocated to Disneyland after the Fair, but it has iterations at each and every Disney resort around the world
- Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln – moved to Disneyland, and is now part of The Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, which opened in 2009
- Ford’s Magic Skyway – this attraction is mostly gone, but the dinosaur animatronic figures can be seen in Primeval World, experienced during a ride-through of the Disneyland Railroad
More significant than the actual attractions is the legacy that the World’s Fair has left on Disney, and vice versa. Disney Parks would not be where they are today without the World’s Fair and the innovations made there. Additionally, Disney was a major influence on the many pavilions that sprang up on the grounds of Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, NY.
Walt Disney died just one year after the Fair ended, in 1966, making the four attractions that debuted there some of the last creative endeavors that the iconic figure was directly involved in throughout development. The Disney company continues to be hailed as one of the most admirable in the world, largely because of the influence of its founder, still a strong force within its many subsidiaries. The contributions to the World’s Fair deserve to be honored long into the future for many reasons – simply, though, they demonstrate the last creative genius we saw from Walt. Go enjoy the World’s Fair attractions themselves, all the rides that were inspired by them (too many to list), and see how the legacy of the Fair will live forever.
There is no better video to honor these great attractions today than Disneyland Goes To The World’s Fair: