Welcome to the third week of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disney’s involvement in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. If you missed last week, we looked at Ford’s Magic Skyway pavilion and Disney’s spellbinding work on it. This week we’re talking a look at another pavilion that allowed Walt to raise the bar on one of his newest innovations: Audio Animatronics.
Walt became interested with animatronic figures when he brought a mechanical toy bird back from a trip to New Orleans. He took the toy apart to see how it worked and to figure out how he could improve on it. His work on the mechanical bird led Walt to task Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers to create a “dancing man” animatronic, and they did so using a film of actor Buddy Ebsen singing a vaudeville song on a proscenium stage as a guide. An entire attraction built around Audio Animatronic figures – The Enchanted Tiki Room – opened at Disneyland in 1963, but Walt had even bigger ideas.
Walt and the Imagineers began to develop the concept for a side street off Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. called Liberty Street. The area would center around the founding principles of the United States, and its key attraction would be One Nation Under God, a celebration of America culminating in a Hall of Presidents.
In 1962, World’s Fair mastermind Robert Moses visited Disneyland to check on the progress of Walt’s exhibits for the Fair, and Walt showed him the Hall of Presidents concept, inviting Moses to “meet Mr. Lincoln.” Moses found himself taken aback by the animatronic Abraham Lincoln that he declared, “I won’t open the fair without that exhibit!” By the following summer, Moses had convinced the State of Illinois to include the Lincoln show in their pavilion.
The Fair’s guidebook describes the attraction, entitled Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, like this:
After watching a brief sound and slide presentation, “The Illinois Story,” visitors enter a comfortable theater where the figure of Lincoln rises from its chair and recites excerpts from some of the speeches of the Civil War President. The figure is capable of more than 250,000 combinations of actions, including gestures, smiles and frowns; the facial features were taken from Lincoln’s life mask.