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It doesn’t look like much now but what you’re looking at could be considered to be part
of the testing grounds for Walt Disney World.
This is Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens New York, home of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
Today you’ll find soccer players, rollerbladers and joggers, but the view from this bench
in 1964 was a little different.
It was a great big beautiful tomorrow.
{Singing} There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow and tomorrow is just a dream away.
The field right here was home to the General electric’s Progressland; one of the four
pavilions Disney developed at the fair.
No other organization had their hand in as many pavilions as Walt Disney and it’s no
wonder he was considered to be one of the Stars.
You could say it was Walt Disney’s World’s Fair.
What took place on these grounds had a major impact on Disney attractions, animatronic
technology and future resorts but there’s probably a lot about the fair you don’t
So by looking at the successes, failures and left over remnants, let’s talk about the
history of Walt Disney and the 1964 New York World’s Fair!
Flushing Meadows Corona park was originally developed for the 1939 New York World’s
When it came time to host the Fair in ’64 much of the original layout was used, but
here’s a little twist.
The 1964 World’s Fair wasn’t really an official World’s Fair.
The Bureau of International Expositions or the BIE is the organization that oversees
and regulates these expos.
They only allow a World’s Fair to take place every 5 years and a nation can only host every
In 1960, when the city of New York went to the Bureau in Paris, their bid was rejected
since the Seattle World’s Fair was happening in 1962.
The BIE advised its nation members to not participate.
Many countries refused to be involved in the 1964 Fair but this didn’t stop World Fair
Corporation president Robert Moses.
This just meant the gaps needed to be filled by corporations
{Robert Moses} Well the overall stated purpose is education for brotherhood.
It has to be an educational institution to get tax exemption.
That may have been the case but the fair slowly became a celebration of Corporate America
which worked in favour for Walt Disney.
Since the fair wasn’t backed by the BIE, Robert Moses had a lot to prove.
He didn’t want his fair to be a financial failure like the 1939 World’s fair.
Moses quickly realized that he’d need something that was guaranteed to draw visitors to Queens
which turned out to be the power of Walt Disney storytelling.
By this point in 1960, Disneyland in California had been open for 5 years and was proven to
be a success not to mention that Walt Disney was already a household name thanks to his
television programs on ABC.
So Moses approached Walt about participating in the Fair and this turned out to be a perfect
partnership for many reasons.
When Walt built Disneyland, he had corporations sponsor park.
By using other peoples money, he was able to fund his own ideas and that’s exactly
where his mind went with the World’s Fair.
If he was able to collaborate with American corporations, then this would give him the
opportunity to experiment and test new ideas for Disneyland on someone else’s dime.
For the 1964 New York World’s Fair Walt Disney partnered with Ford, General Electric,
the State of Illinois and Pepsi-Cola.
Over the course of 3 years his team went to work on creating 4 unique attractions.
{Walt Disney} Now when the current World’s Fair ends, all four of our shows will find
a permeant home at Disneyland USA.
It was a genius plan costing the company practically nothing for shiny new attractions and ride
technology but this wasn’t Walt’s only intention when partnering with the World’s
See, when Disney was approached by Moses, he saw this partnership also as an opportunity
to test his attractions on east coast audiences.
Disneyland was already a smash hit on the west but Walt had ideas of developing another
park on the east.
He just wasn’t sure if his Disneyland attractions would resonate.
So there was a lot riding on the success of the fair for both Walt Disney and Robert Moses.
Moses needed to recoup the 1 Billion dollars it cost to build and Walt Disney needed the
stamp of approval from New Yorkers who were known to be a very critical audience.
When the gates opened on April 22, 1964 Moses made sure to let the world know that Disney
was the star and people came to the fair just to experience the Disney magic.
In addition to Disney’s four attractions, Disney characters could be seen walking the
fairgrounds and with the other rides like the Monorail and the Sky Ride, it already
kinda felt like an east coast Disneyland.
The fair was going just as planned for Walt Disney which was great news because he secretly
began making offers in April to purchase land in central Florida.
Walt was more confident than ever in an east coast Disneyland and pieces of the fair would
eventually find themselves at what would become Walt Disney World.
According to this ad, you’d need at least 5 days to see everything at the fair plus
some Supp-hose socks.
The grounds covered 646 acres, there was 153 pavilions and they were split up into 5 distinct
areas; industrial, International, Federal and State, transportation and the Lake.
Over in the transportation section you could the Ford pavilion which featured The Magic
The pavilion covered over 304,000 square feet and according to an NBC News program it was
considered to be the 4th most popular attraction.
This was the first attraction for the fair that WED began work on and Walt Disney had
the idea of using Ford vehicles as the ride vehicles.
So 146 ford convertibles transported over 4000 guests an hour through the attraction.
Not only did the magic skyway introduce the world to the Ford Mustang it was also the
introduction to on-board audio in Disney attractions.
In the 1965 season Walt Disney himself provided the narration.
Observing from the outside you’d see the convertibles making their way around the rotunda
then they’d enter into the age of the dinosaurs.
These were the largest audio animatronics developed at the time and are the same animatronics
that can be found over at Disneyland in the Primeval World Diorama on the Disneyland Railroad.
When Disney told Ford he’d like to bring one of the most popular attractions back to
Disneyland, the Ford motor company declined.
This lack of sponsorship did not stop Walt Disney and he wasn’t going to let these
dinosaurs go extinct.
He shipped them all back to Anaheim and just 9 months after the fair ended he opened the
Primeval World diorama in July of 1966.
As for the Magic Skyway’s ride system, well that didn’t go unused either and the technology
became the ride system for the PeopleMover which originally opened at Disneyland in 1967.
Next lets take a trip over to the industrial area . home to General Electric’s Progressland
featuring Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.
This was another one of Walt’s personal ideas; to create a show that revolved around
the American family and this one literally revolved.
The attraction was very ahead of its time in terms of technology, with its rotating
theatre and not to mention the life-like audio animatronics.
These were actually the first realistic human Audio-animatronics Disney began developing.
It was actually said that guests would stop fair hosts asking for names of the performers
on stage.
That’s how convincing these animatronics were back then.
People in the 60s had never seen anything like it and it was another popular must see
Over 45,000 people went through the carousel theatre each day.
Walt Disney used the attractions popularity as a selling feature to get GE to sponsor
the attraction back at Disneyland.
So after the fair ended, the Carousel of Progress opened as part of new Tomorrowland at Disneyland
in 1967.
It ran for just over 6 years until it was shipped back to the east coast where it opened
in Magic Kingdom’s expanded Tomorrowland in 1975.
The next pavilion that boasted Walt Disney’s genius antics of animation was the Illinois
State pavilion where WED debuted Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
It was the third Pavilion Walt Disney signed onto.
After Robert Moses visited WED enterprises in 1962 he saw ideas of a presidents attraction.
Since what would later become Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was
far from completion, Disney settled on developing one animatronic for the fair and Moses teamed
Disney up with the State of Illinois.
The sponsorship from Illinois allowed Imagineers to continue development on their first full
range motion human audio animatronic.
After a cancelled preview of the show due to technical difficulties with the animatronic,
they were able to dress the problems in time for it to be ready for opening day.
Audiences were throughly impressed when Abraham Lincoln stood up from his chair to deliver
the Gettysburg address.
The World’s Fair Guidebook says Lincoln was capable of more than 250,000 combinations
of actions including gestures, smiles and frowns.
The attraction was such a hit at the fair that Disney created a duplicate of the animatronic
and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln opened at Disneyland in July of 1965.
During the second season of the Fair, this made Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln the first
Disney attraction to run simultaneously on both the east and west coasts.
The last pavilion that Disney had his name attached to was Pepsi in the industrial area
featuring it’s a small world benefiting UNICEF.
Pepsi was the last pavilion Walt Disney partnered with and everything from concept to design
was completed in only 11 months.
Walt Disney didn’t meet with Pepsi until March of 1963 but told them he could deliver
an attraction in time for the fair.
So he put his team right to work but Pepsi was initially unimpressed with the pitch since
it didn’t promote enough Pepsi.
They still decided to go forward with the idea and it became the only pavilion operated
by Walt Disney Productions.
It was hard to miss the 120 foot tower of the four winds and ads for the pavilion made
sure to boast the Disneyland name.
It was really the Disneyland Pavilion.
Fair goers loved seeing Disney characters roaming around and they fell in love with
the magical 9 minute boat ride.
It cost adults 95 cents and children 60 cents to experience the whimsical attraction with
all proceeds going to UNICEF.
At the end of the fair’s second season in October of 1965, Disney packed up it’s a
small World and it opened at Disneyland 7 months later in May of 1966.
The Tower of the Four Winds was the only thing that wasn’t packed up.
Rolly Crump, the imagineer responsible for designing the tower, actually hated the way
it turned out after construction.
He thought it was too thick and bulky.
Even though it cost 250,000 dollars they collectively chose to not bring it California but even
without the tower, It’s A Small World would still go on to become one of the most iconic
Disney rides.
The New York World’s Fair would close its gates on October 17th, 1965.
Walt Disney now had all these new attractions heading back to Disneyland, in addition to
new animatronic and ride technology that would be used in other projects.
In a press conference on Nov 15 1965, Walt Disney announced the Florida project which
would later become Walt Disney World.
The fair couldn’t have gone any better for Walt Disney and it was a complete success
which juxtaposed the controversy surrounding the expo.
Sure 51 million people passed through the gates but this was 20 million less than the
70 million needed to turn a profit.
It was a financial failure just like the 1939 Fair and closed with 30 million dollars in
Poor weather impacted attendance and people complained about it being too expensive, not
to mention that anything worth seeing required a long wait.
It was also said to be an old fair in a new time with very few new ideas.
Initial talks for the fair began during the post war economic boom of the 50s and by the
time 1964 rolled around, the world had already advanced a lot.
Critics proclaimed the 1964 New York World’s fair to be the World of Already when comparing
it to the theme of the ’39 Fair.
The theme was coincidentally the World of Tomorrow but at least for Disney there was
definitely still a great big beautiful tomorrow.
If the fair had been an official Worlds Fair that didn’t rely on corporate America Walt
Disney most likely wouldn’t have been involved in the same magnitude.
Today the legacy of Walt Disney and his involvement with the fair still lives on in the theme
It’s A Small World, the Dinosaurs from the Magic Skyway as well as Great Moments with
Mr. Lincoln can all still be found at Disneyland.
The Carousel of Progress rotates everyday in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland and the
original Abraham Lincoln Animatronic from the 1964 fair is on display in Walt Disney
Presents at Hollywood Studios.
Over in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, the 120 foot Unisphere stands as a reminder
of the fair.
Most of the buildings have been demolished, but one of the few that survived is the Queens
The buildings been around since the 1939 Fair and used to be the New York City Pavilion.
Inside on the second floor there’s an exhibit celebrating the World’s Fair.
It’s small but there’s some interesting pieces like a model of the General Electric
Pavilion as well as the Ford Pavilion which has definitely seen some better days.
There’s also tons of retro vintage memorabilia and a complete layout of the fair grounds.
Although Progressland and the other 3 Disney pavilions no longer stand today, you can’t
help but walk through the park and feel the excitement of Walt Disney’s New York World’s
So what was your favourite attraction to come out of the fair?
I’d love to know!
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Top Things You Don't Know About Disney & the 1964 New York World's Fair

10 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on March 9, 2020
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