1964-1965 World’s Fair

When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, he always said “there will never be another Disneyland.” Walt was a stickler for not repeating himself. He always thought that the next one (whatever it be) wouldn’t be as good as the original.

The Unisphere. The key symbol of the fair.*

Associates of Walt, however, argue that Walt always had in mind a plan for a second park. Walt once said, “Do you realize that we play only to one-fourth of the US at Disneyland…..? There’s a whole other world on the other side of the Mississippi.” Walt must have realized that he needed to get more creativity, and motivation added into Disneyland. He needed to expand some of the technology, add challenges to the company.

Thus, in 1960 Walt gathered his staff and proposed his idea on participating in the soon to be “1964 World’s Fair.” He gave a run down on how many American Corporations would be participating in the fair. “They won’t even know why they want to,” he continued, “They won’t even know why they’re doing it, except that other corporations are doing it, and they have to keep up with the Joneses.”

He realized that some companies would want to have something that would stand out from the others, something brand new, and unique. “We’ve proved we can do it with Disneyland,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us to grow.”

General Electric “Progressland”

Companies would hire WED (a company ran by Walt Disney Productions that was in charge of creating rides and attractions for Disneyland) to create and develop new attractions for the fair. Thus allowing their financial support to advance and develop theme park technology for the future. Not only would the technology grow, but all the attractions could be moved to Disneyland when the fair was over.

At first, a team of representatives visited the US’s top companies offering Disney’s services for the fair. WED was hired to build attractions for :

Ford Motors          Visitors would be carried through the history of the world from Stone Age, to Modern times in Ford Vehicles.

General Electric          A revolutionary new system where the audience moved around a series of stages explaining the progress of home electric appliances.

State of Illonios          A Hall of lifelike (audio-animatronic) presidents. Abraham Lincoln was the only one completed.

Pepsi-Cola          Made to benifit UNICEF, a boat ride through countries of the world.

Pepsi’s “It’s a Small World.”

Numerous problems faced WED once everything arrived in New York. Construction crews worked slower because of the outside Californian managers. One of the most severe problems happened with “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Ten days before the Fairs opening the model passed all the tests at the studio. Once arriving, late, the model would not function.Everyone at WED was busy with the four attractions for the fair. Once a exhibit was designed, and fabricated, a “mock-up” would be put together at the studio. As the Fair deadline grew shorter many of the mock ups, complete, or not, were sent to New York to be tested and finished. In New York, over 200 WED “Imagineers” were sent to assemble and test all the exhibits.
Giving a perfect speech, the figure would go into spasms. Faulty electronics, and the damp New York air was blaimed for the problem. A grand ceremony was planned for the press, and governor of Illinois. Technicians worked to fix the figure up until the last moment. Still, nothing worked.

Walt was introduced to the crowd by Governor Kerner. Walt looked at the audience with a half smile, “There isn’t going to be any show.” Guests laughed, Walt explained, “It’s true. We’ve worked like beavers to get it ready, but it’s not ready, and I won’t showa thing that might fall apart on us.” He explained the problems and announced it would be ready once it began to work.

Suddenly, a week later, the figure began to work properly. The show became of the most popular in the fair. General Electric’s “Progressland” and Ford’s “Magic Skyway” were in second and third place in the first years attendance. “It’s a Small world” was voted the most charming of all.

In the end, the studio applied a fee of one-million dollars for use of the Disney name, and technology. At the end of the fair, however, Walt made an incredible offer to the exhibitors. “If the two corporations established their exhibits at Disneyland, the million-dollar fee could be applied to moving expenses.”

In a rather short period of time, theme-park technology was advanced greatly. Disneyland recieved two new attractions. With, a minimul cost to the company. Quite a deal. By dealing with corporations, and stretching his Imagineers’ creativity valuable lessons were learned. What’s next on Walt’s agenda? Walt was a busy man. Once everything was set up at Disneyland in 1965/66, Walt was busy again, this time, for something bigger.

-Information in this article was from Bob Thomas’ “Walt Disney, An American Original.”
-Images are from various post cards, and World’s Fair publicity.
-Thanks to Bill, of NWYF64com.
*Top photo by Alfred Gedney

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