D23 Destination D: The 1964/65 World’s Fair (Part 1)

Hello everyone and welcome back! In November, you may remember I was down in Florida for D23’s Destination D: Attraction Rewind. It was a weekend of history, stories, and surprises. After going through over 50 pages of notes, we’re ready to recap the fabulous event! This will be a general overview with the most notable moments, facts, and quotes.


My favorite little bird!

The weekend began with check in on Friday, shopping at the Mickey’s of Glendale pop up shop, and the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit.

Saturday, I arrived over an hour before doors opened. Thankfully there were only about 30 people in front of me in line. They had a no photography rule for the presentations, so head over to D23 if you’d like to see some 🙂


Welcome to the World’s Fair (Historian Bill Cotter) 

Bill began his program by having everyone repeat, “I (name) promise to not point out Bill’s mistakes”

He discussed the 1939 World’s Fair, 1964/65 World’s Fair, and what remains today in Flushing Meadows. The 1939 World’s Fair was slightly larger than the 1964 . Although both fairs were extremely expensive and lost money, there were good things about the financial loss. When the 1939 fair was over, many roads and some buildings were left untouched to become a wasteland. At 6 1/2 times the size of the Magic Kingdom (or twice of Epcot), years later, the 1964 World’s Fair utilized the same area.

The 1964 fair was rejected by the Bureau of International Expositions for breaking the rule of not having fairs in the same country within 10 years. In fact, “master builder” Robert Moses broke every rule placed by the Bureau of International Expositions.

The 1964/65 fair was a place filled with the new cutting edge technology. In fact, it was one of the first places people saw computers in the IBM pavilion, touch pad phones, and family phone booths. Tower of Light held the what was at the time, the largest concentrated beam of light, and the Vatican pavilion facade displayed Michelangelo’s Pieta. Today, the statue can be found in Kennebunk, Maine. NCR introduced carbon paper free credit card slips, and you could take a nap at the Simmons Rest Alcoves.

Unfortunately only 51 million people visited out of the 70 million expected. The fair once again lost money.

Check out Bill’s site – http://www.worldsfairphotos.com

Walt Disney – A Giant at the New York World’s Fair (Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Bob Gurr)

As many joked about on Twitter, these two need their own reality show ;). This presentation was worth the price of the event alone. Starting out by finding the clicker (telling Marty, Bob said, “You forgot your clicker! I swear, you gotta watch these old people”), and attempting to figure out the slides (“You just press the button. It’s the only one there.” –Bob Gurr). We knew this next presentation would be hilarious and fascinating.

There was a big argument between Walt and Robert Moses. Buzz Price had picked a location for the Disney pavilions, but it was across the freeway. Walt knew it wouldn’t work and was therefore furious. Eventually, he received a better placement and was – of course – correct about the first location. It was a terrible location because people didn’t notice things were over there. As Bob noted multiple times throughout their talk, people should have listened to Walt. While explaining this story, Marty’s laser pointer was difficult to see, so Bob was his “pointer”, jumping and pointing. Absolutely hilarious.

The symbol of the fair was the giant Unisphere. According to Marty Sklar, Disney artist and Imagineer Harper Goff designed the concept art for it. Bob Gurr told about the delicious and popular Belgian (or Bellegem) waffles. His advice was to not eat one with powdered sugar on a windy day while wearing a black suit. Not that he was speaking from experience or anything…

Walt Disney created the Ford Magic Skyway with Henry Ford II. In this pavilion, they debuted the Mustang. Bob spoke on many of the challenges they faced with the mechanics of the attraction. Just like the TTA Peoplemover, the cars moved with little wheels. Mustangs were fast, and Lincolns were slow. Ford wanting to get the cheapest parts, bought terrible respacers. So Bob and others would walk around baseball bats to keep the cars from smashing into each other. It was a little awkward with the secret service when the president came to experience the attraction. “So what was I gonna do? The President was coming by in an open car and I had a baseball bat!”

Marty wrote the narration that Walt read for the Magic Skyway. Frustrated with the difficult dinosaur names, Walt asked, “Marty, are you sure you spelled these names right?”

IMG_2408The Illinois state pavilion contained an attraction you can find in Disneyland today. Great Moments with Mr Lincoln. The audio animatronic’s face was created by Blaine Gibson with a life mask of the pre-bearded president in 1860. Bob took a three-month break from Ford to work on the his first ever AA.  It was a challenge due to the requirement of fitting in all the parts into a tall, skinny figure. Lincoln was extremely believable to the guests, to the point of thinking there was an actor on stage. They would fling ball bearings from the Japanese pavilion to make him flinch. Just as technology usually behaves, the animatronic worked perfectly at WED in California, but due to voltage problems, it was very unpredictable at the fair. When they installed it in Disneyland, the AA would have a spasm attack every ten minutes. Every ten minutes when the monorail would pass causing frequency conflicts.

For six years, Disneyland didn’t gain any new attractions. Walt and WED were busy creating their masterpieces for the fair. A brilliant man, Walt had the contracts for the 1964/65 fair written so that when they finished, he owned everything in his attractions.

Walt was always thinking ahead. Even while extremely busy with the fair, he bought the first piece of land for Walt Disney World in Florida the same month as the fair opening in April 1964.


A model of The Tower of Four Winds in One Man’s Dream

It’s a Small World is probably the most famous Disney attraction from the fair. The brainchild of Marc Davis, Mary Blair, and Rolly Crump. Mary made drawings, and Marc would turn her drawings into scenes. The artwork they showed was gorgeous. Rolly Crump was the creator of the beautiful and famous icon of the attraction, The Tower of Four Winds. Funnily enough, Rolly hated the tower. He was furious because the tower was beefed up to stand strong winds. His feelings remain the same to this day.

After joining WED, Rolly didn’t say anything in meetings for three years. He watched and listened to Walt. Studying his reactions. In a video, Rolly discussed how Walt would often say, “Why don’t you try this…” In an interview video with songwriter Richard Sherman he explained that Walt was a “Magic charm” motivator and storyteller. He would inspire people, but he didn’t want to spoil them. Walt explained Small World to Richard and Robert Sherman, and then told them, “You’re going to write a song to explain all this.” Richard remarked, “If you write a good story, the rest follows.” I believe this quote embodies the Walt Disney Company and Imagineering. Without story, you have nothing.

The final remarks of the presentation almost made me cry. When writing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” for the Carousel of Progress, either Robert or Richard (Marty wasn’t sure which) said “Walt had a dream and that’s the start.” Sound familiar? The lyric and song are about the dreamer and doer, Walt Disney.

Disney Music Magic at the New York’s World Fair (Historian Stacia Martin)

Think back to the year 1963. Disney released classic Summer Magic, Mary Poppins and opened the Tiki Room. According to Stacia Martin, “Music played a huge, huge part [in the fair]”

Buddy Baker wrote most of the music for the fair. He was key to the music of Disney. For Progressland, he orchestrated Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow to move through the decades.

Music in the Ford pavilion included In the Bag (a Humphrey short), The Jungle Book, Zorro, and the Mickey Mouse Club. The song Flying Ford from The Absent Minded Professor was utilized in the queue.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Historian/2007 WDW Ambassador Michael Kelley and Former Imagineer Jack Gladish)

Liberty Street was a dream of Walt’s for Disneyland. Similar to the Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, a land was designed for Disneyland, but there wasn’t enough space for it. It contained a Liberty tree, and Hall of Presidents wax figures attraction titled “One Nation Under God.” Deemed too expensive and risky, Disney couldn’t find a sponsor for it.

When creating the first Lincoln combination of hydraulics and pneumatics were tested. Jack discussed one of the biggest challenges – skin. He tried many types of plastic. Latex wouldn’t work, and wax cooled and set too quickly. He eventually created a vacuum chamber to mold the skin from a hot melt vinyl.

IMG_2418During the designing of the first human audio animatronic, Mr. Lincoln, Walt gave the Imagineering a full skeleton. Jack discussed how they had to get a piece of plastic to move like a head. The head alone took a year to build. When creating the figure, a cleaner ran out of the room after seeing the head on a table “he looked at me!” The AA was flown in a “casket” out to the fair in NY. His hands were so usable, he could hold a glass. One leg was anchored to the hydraulics on the floor, and the other was able to move freely when he stood up and sat down. It was programmed with 2 joysticks.

IMG_2416It opened a week late because of the power and electrical issues.

The preshow area contained every known picture of Lincoln, and at the exit they had a replica of the building were Lincoln was post master. Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore, created a Lincoln sculpture for the pavilion.

Unfortunately, flash photography was not permitted in the pavilion, so there are very few photos today.

Jack Gladish spoke very highly of Walt and his time working with Disney. “It was like working in a big hobby shop. I got up everyday and looked forward to going to work.” His favorite work in Progressland was making the dog’s tail wag.

Ford’s Magic Skyway (Historian Bill Cotter and Disney Legend Bob Gurr)


For the Ford attraction, the main purpose was simply to sell cars. It didn’t make sense to have drivers in the cars, so Walt asked Bob Gurr to figure it out. Bob described the situations as, “Cars propelled by wheels, but I didn’t know where they were going to go”

One of the greatest challenges Bob faced was moving the cars at predictable speeds. With 62 different types/structures of cars timing was difficult. Some cars had motors, others didn’t. Bob said he had to reduce the Lincoln from 4,400 to 1900 pounds by stripping it down. The attraction was the origin of the speed belt load design that was later used in The Haunted Mansion. They timed how long people take to get in/out and had it move 2 1/2 feet per second.

Since everything in the fair was temporary, under the Ford building wasn’t paved with a foundation. Because it was New York City, there were rats running through. Lunch breaks were often spent sitting on the piles of dirt, with the Pinkerton guards who would shoot the rats with their 45 pistols. “That was standard Stuff” according to Bob Gurr.

Originally the cars had license plates that were later removed due to the fact that people would wait for their state. The rear and side view mirrors were also removed from the cars to make sure there was nothing people could get caught on get on/off. Unfortunately children would often pull the buttons off in the cars.

Ford thought the first narrator was too professional sounding, so the 1965 version was narrated by Walt Disney.

Walt want to bring the Magic Skyway to Disneyland, but it was ultimately left due to size. They left behind everything he couldn’t use.


Let’s take a break shall we? Next we’ll look at The Carousel of Progress, It’s a Small World, Things lost on the way to the fair, and the 2015 film, Tomorrowland.

Thank you to everyone who enter the giveaway! Shout out to winner Erin from Creative Disneyland Momma. Hope you enjoy the goodies from Destination D 🙂



One Reply to “D23 Destination D: The 1964/65 World’s Fair (Part 1)”

  1. Forda

    Excellent coverage. I really enjoyed reading so far and look forward to the rest of your report on d23 Destination d.

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