The 1964 World's Fair... Presented by Walt Disney?

One of the unique tours that I offer is a World's Fair history tour in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in Queens (this can be booked here). Having grown up in Queens, getting visitors to explore this diverse borough is a passion of mine.

This tour also intersects with another passion of mine... Disney and its many theme parks (my travel bucket list: visit every Disney theme park in the world. Halfway there!).

Walt Disney was heavily involved with the 1964-1965 World's Fair, and the legacy of his involvements remains at his theme parks worldwide today. As Disneyland's Tomorrowland (one of the original 4 sections of the park) showed, Disney shared the same obsession with an idealized, scientific future as most Worlds Fairs did. So he was thrilled to be involved. Disney created 4 major attractions for the Fair, and we'll look at each. In addition, like at his own park, costumed Disney characters roamed the Fair grounds.

Walt Disney's parks pioneered the technology of Audio-Animatronics, and he first showcased this at the Fair. For the Illinois pavilion, Disney created an attraction called "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln", a theater show in which an animatronic Abraham Lincoln recited his famous speeches. This attraction was moved to Disneyland after the Fair, where it still runs today. An expanded version of this concept, the continuously-updated Hall of Presidents, was created for the Disney World resort.

(There were rumors that Disney was seeking to use Flushing Meadows as the sight for his planned East Coast Disneyland, but that was never confirmed, and the cold winters alone likely were a key deterrent, and the cheap land in sunny central Florida won out.)

Animatronics also featured heavily in the most famous Disney creation for the Fair... "Pepsi-Cola Presents Walt Disney's 'It's a Small World' - a Salute to UNICEF and the World's Children". In this attraction, which involved a boat ride, dolls and animals representing countries and cultures from around the world danced and sang to a tune written by Disney's favorite songwriting collaborators, the Sherman Brothers. This too was moved to Disneyland after the Fair, and the ride has been recreated in every Disney resort since. Odds are most of you have ridden it, and now have that song stuck in your head. Sorry about that.

For the General Electric-sponsored Progressland at the Fair, Disney created the "Carousel of Progress", a revolving theater where the audience moved around six stages showcasing the importance of electricity in the home, over several generations. For this show, the Sherman Brothers composed another new song, called 'There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow'. After viewing this show, audiences went to a second level, where they saw Progress City, a small-scale model for Disney's original concept of EPCOT (his  Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).  The Carousel of Progress was moved to Disneyland after the Fair, but was replaced and relocated to the Magic Kingdom in Florida in 1975.

Finally, for the large Ford pavilion, Disney developed the "Ford Magic Skyway". In this attraction, guests sat in a new model Ford vehicle, which drove along a track using Omnimover technology, first through the visible perimeter of the pavilion, then inside into a series of animatronic exhibitions on a trip through time... from the dinosaurs to caveman to the growth of man and technology, and into the future. Unlike the others discussed above, this attraction was not moved to Disneyland. But various aspects of it did live on in many Disney park attractions. The dinosaurs were moved to an interior portion of the Disneyland railroad ride, where they can still be seen today. The focus on car technology and power lives on in Epcot's Test Track. The self-moving transportation concept found new life in the PeopleMover. And the concept of a trip through time was largely recreated in Epcot's iconic Spaceship Earth.

There's so much history in this city that even most New Yorkers do not know about, not the least of which is the role that Queens played in shaping the Disney theme park empire for decades to come. The next time you ride It's A Small World, remember... it all started in Flushing Meadows park. And I'd love to show you around.

If you are interested in learning even more and Disney and his involvement in the World's Fair, a full-length special was created by the Disney corporation about this, and it can be viewed here:



[PS: Many other (non-Disney) attractions from these World's Fairs remain in various places around the country. The parachute jump attraction for the 1939 Fair was later moved to Coney Island in Brooklyn, where it still stands (no longer used) and is now a designated landmark. The skyway created for the 1964 Fair was moved to Six Flags Great Adventure in NJ, where it still operates today.]