LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – There are moments in history that are pivotal. For Walt Disney, the 1964 World’s Fair is one of those moments.
The fair came only nine years after Disney opened Disneyland, which changed the face of family theme parks for the better. But, in true Disney fashion, he didn’t stand still. Instead, he continued to look for the next great innovation.
The technology that Disney introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, N.Y., helped further transform his theme parks and remains the basis for some of the greatest attractions he developed.
The Carousel of Progress, It’s a Small World and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln were not only hits at the World’s Fair, they became mainstays at Disney parks for decades. In fact, the Carousel of Progress is the longest running show in the history of American Theater. While there have been rumors for years that the attraction was to close, the show still has a loyal following.
It’s a Small World, originally named “Children of the World,” features one of the best-known, most beloved or most hated – depending on the perspective – theme songs ever to grace a Disney attraction. Like the Carousel of Progress, the ride’s theme song was written by the Sherman Brothers who wrote the scores to a number of Disney movies, including Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone.
But perhaps the most innovative attraction to appear at the World’s Fair was one that featured a technology that took years to develop and to this day remains one of Disney’s best achievements.
In the 1950s, Walt Disney conceived an American history-themed show for Disneyland, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the technology for Audio-Animatronics developed into a viable one. Disney used the technology to create Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, a stage show featuring a lifelike 16th president who gave a speech. This raised the technology to a new level and demonstrated what was possible.
The show was a sensation, and on July 18, 1966, following the World’s Fair, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln opened at the Opera House on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. The show was the inspiration for the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square.
But the technology introduced at the World’s Fair wasn’t just responsible for the attractions that appeared in Queens. If not for Audio-Animatronics and the propelling flat bottom boats, Pirates of the Caribbean would have been drastically different.
The attraction, the last that Disney personally worked on, was originally conceived as a walk-through wax museum. But that all changed with the World’s Fair, and Pirates of the Caribbean morphed into one of the most beloved Disney attractions of all time.
There are scant reminders of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, but the best way to relive the experience from 45 years ago is to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.