Tomorrow, April 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York World’s Fair! As many of you know, Disney was a huge contributor to the Fair and debuted some of its most beloved attractions there. Let’s delve back into history and celebrate this pretty momentous occasion.
The New York World’s Fair always held a great interest for me as it was held in Flushing Meadows in Queens, and I actually live about ten minutes away from there. The highway connecting my house and my grandparent’s house actually passes right past the Fairgrounds, so growing up I was very familiar with the remaining towers (you know those ones in Men In Black that look like flying saucers?) and the Unisphere shaped like a globe. In addition, my grandparents, mom, and uncle visited the Fair several times, so I have heard tons of stories about their visits. All of the pictures included in this post are taken from the official guidebook that my mom still has today! (On a random note: If you live in the area, the Observatory Towers are supposed to be open to guests on April 22nd as a celebration of the anniversary!)
There were endless things to look at, but Disney was involved with four main pavilions, all of which directly influenced attractions once the Fair concluded. The Pepsi Pavilion hosted Pepsi Presents Walt Disney’s “It’s A Small World”- A Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children. Obviously, this pavilion was the first incarnation of the beloved cruise around the world we know today, and it also featured the original song by the Sherman Brothers. The General Electric Pavilion was called Progressland and was the original version of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Guests were seated in their round theater, circled around the stage, and enjoyed the Sherman Brothers “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” just as we do in the Magic Kingdom® Park today.
The third pavilion was the Ford Motor Company’s Ford’s Magic Skyway. Designed by Imagineering, the pavilion featured real Ford vehicles which guests could ride in as they passed through scenes featuring dinosaurs and other audio-animatronics. The ride system itself was an early prototype of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and the dinosaurs were moved to Disneyland® and can be found in the Primeval World scene on the Disneyland® Railroad. The final pavilion that Disney contributed to was the Illinois Pavilion which presented the original audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” This is perhaps the most iconic of all of Disney’s World’s Fair contributions, and I have heard stories about how guests simply refused to believe that Lincoln was an audio-animatronic but rather a real live actor! Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln can still be experienced today in Disneyland® as well as in the form of the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom® Park.
It goes without saying that the 1964 New York World’s Fair was one of the biggest opportunities of the era for Disney as it not only helped in the advancement of new technologies for audio-animatronics, but it also paved the way for some of the most popular attractions in Disney Parks today. So let’s celebrate this anniversary together- it’s a small world, after all!
(All photos are from the author’s personal collection.)
Did you have the opportunity to visit the World’s Fair? Regardless, which Disney pavilion is your favorite? Be sure to let me know all of your thoughts in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!
Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.