Culture

Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 6: 'A Living Blueprint Of The Future'

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We’ve made it to the end of our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s influence on it. If you’ve missed the rest of the series here’s where you can find the rest:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

In this segment, we’re going to look at the legacy of the Fair on Disney’s theme parks. As we discussed in the first week of the series, Walt Disney used the New York World’s Fair as a sort of testing ground for an East Coast Disneyland concept. The success of the Disney-designed pavilions convinced the company that their secret land purchases in Florida would pay off. As Jeff Kurtti noted in Since The World Began, his (sadly out of print) account of Walt Disney World’s first 25 years:

Ninety-one percent of the guests at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair attended at least one of the Disney shows. And although critics scoffed at Disney’s creations, their popularity convinced many in the Disney organization that the theme park concept was fundamentally reliable, regardless of geographic location.

Since the Fair, Disney has opened a resort with five theme parks in Florida, expanded Disneyland to a second theme park, opened a two-park resort in Tokyo and single-park resorts in Paris and Hong Kong – with a resort in Shanghai set to open in late 2015.

Each of the four pavilions that Disney designed and built for the Fair have left their mark on the Disney brand over the past 50 years. It’s A Small World, with its inimitable spirit and charm, has made its way to all five Magic Kingdom-style parks and has been consistently popular since its Disneyland debut. That attraction also inspired and informed the spirit of World Showcase, the half of Epcot in which various nations show themselves off to guests, living in harmony along World Showcase Lagoon.

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General Electric Progressland left its mark on Disney mainly because of the popular Carousel of Progress, which spent eight years at Disneyland before moving to Walt Disney World, where it has remained for nearly three decades. In many ways, the Future World portion of Epcot owes a debt to Progressland and its buoyant, exuberant vision for the future.

Epcot also hosted a sort of second-generation version of the Carousel of Progress in Horizons, which took a look into the future the way the Carousel of Progress visited the past. Progressland’s Medallion City became the model for Innoventions at Epcot and Disneyland, where exhibits demonstrate innovations that are just on the horizon for guests. The fireworks, fountains, and lighting effects at Progressland encouraged Imagineers to experiment even more with those ideas at the Disney Parks.

Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln moved to Disneyland shortly after its run at the Fair, and it has continued into the new millennium in one form or another. But that attraction’s greatest gift may have been to Walt Disney World, and the company expanded Walt’s Liberty Street/One Nation Under God concept for Main Street, U.S.A. into its own land at Orlando’s Magic Kingdom – Liberty Square. Liberty Square’s Hall of Presidents is the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln concept writ large, including all 44 presidents in one show.

The Ford Magic Skyway lived on at Epcot in the similar attractions World of Motion and Test Track (though competitor General Motors has sponsored both Epcot rides). Disney has perfected the Omnimover technology on display at the Magic Skyway and put it to use in attractions like If You Had Wings, Horizons, The Haunted Mansion, and  Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. The Magic Skyway – along with Progressland and Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln – have inspired Disney to continue to “plus” Audio-Animatronic technology.

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The Magic Skyway’s “City of Tomorrow” may have left its greatest imprint in Walt’s original EPCOT/Progress City concept, which he outlined on film a mere two months before his passing:

E.P.C.O.T will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

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So that’s what E.P.C.O.T is: an Experimental Prototype Community that will always be in the state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future where people actually live a life they can’t find anyplace else in the world.

Even though Walt’s futuristic city never actually saw the light of day, the Florida Project for which it was planned lives on in Walt Disney World’s innovations. As I wrote last fall:

…guests can see his visionary ideas on display all over Walt Disney World and just outside of it. From the futuristic technology on display and behind the scenes, to the innovative transportation in and around the Magic Kingdom, to Celebration’s meticulous planning, Walt’s exciting and thought-provoking concepts became their own realities in time.

Even though the 1964-65 World’s Fair lasted for two short seasons, we still see the ripples of its effects in Disney’s theme parks. From the attractions themselves, to new concepts, to entire theme parks, Disney mined plenty from the Fair at Flushing Meadows, and Disney Parks as a whole are better for it.