Beyond the berm of Disneyland, America faced a tremendous era of change. The emerging 1960s were a wild departure from the 1950s, and the two decades’ ideas of the future had changed proportionally. At Walt Disney Imagineering, ambitious projects were setting a new gold standard for the parks.
Walt and his Imagineers were at work designing attractions for the 1964 – 65 New York World’s Fair. It was there that they’d premier four cutting edge attractions.
- The fair’s Pepsi pavilion hosted Walt Disney’s “it’s a small world” – A Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children. It was the debut of the world famous flume ride through international waters. Naturally, the attraction featured the eponymous song by the Sherman Brothers. After the fair’s closure, the ride would be relocated to Disneyland in 1966.
- The General Electric pavilion was called Progressland and featured a revolving circular theater showcasing one American family’s advance through the ages alongside the evolution of electricity in the home. The Sherman Brothers contributed a timeless tune here, too: “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
- The third Disney influence at the World’s Fair was hosted in the Illinois state pavilion. It was a stunning animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln (voiced by Royal Dano) reciting famous speeches in the groundbreaking Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
- Ford Motor Company presented Ford’s Magic Skyway. This unusual attraction featured 50 actual Ford convertible vehicles (without motors), which traveled around and through Ford’s pavilion passing animatronic dinosaurs. The unique ride system was boarded along a moving walkway traveling at the same speed and alongside the convertibles, which moved continuously along elevated tracks outside the building and within.
Imagineering for the future
Disney had designed four incredible attractions for the World’s Fair, but that had only been the beginning of Imagineering’s advance in the 60s. While creating those four, designers also pressed forward with two groundbreaking attractions designed specifically for Disneyland: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Both revolutionary rides would become instant classics.
At the same time, the mid-1960s signaled investment in the Florida Project. This still-secret project had seen Disney buying up massive landholdings in Central Florida. As part of this “Disney World,” Walt would oversee a larger, big-budget version of Disneyland (later called Magic Kingdom), but only because he had to in order to build what he really wanted. The centerpiece of the Florida Project would be EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
This imagined city would feature skyscrapers, residential communities, and markets connected by efficient prototype mass transportation and ever-evolving industry.
Along with the monorail, the WEDWay (as the PeopleMover system was known) was to play a vital role at EPCOT. Residents would commute to work via WEDway trams. Automobiles and trucks would be restricted to underground tunnels, and to a one-way road that circled EPCOT - so the PeopleMovers would enable the city to become a more-or-less car-free zone. Walt believed that this would provide a model for cities all over the world to follow - he was not impressed by the impact that motor vehicles had had on Los Angeles, where Disney was based.
Disney had a plan to test EPCOT’s eventual mass transit at Disneyland. Best, it would be integrated into a complete and total renovation of the aging Tomorrowland.
The Tomorrowland problem
The sincere attempt at forecasting the future made by Walt and his team in the 1950s had been inspiring, but it couldn’t hold up. By the early 1960s – just shortly after the park’s opening – the land was looking increasingly less impressive. Somewhat like a World’s Fair, the land was comprised mostly of exhibits sponsored by corporations, each peddling their own industry and innovations. The problem is, a decade after opening, none of it felt convincingly futuristic, and certainly not forward thinking.
Besides, Walt had never really been happy with the way Tomorrowland had ended up. The 1959 expansion had been a move in the right direction, but the rest of the land was quickly becoming dated. He felt that land was not quite finished.
If Imagineers wanted Tomorrowland to sincerely represent cutting edge innovation, it would need a facelift – a floor-to-ceiling renovation that more closely matched Walt’s grand visions for the land while simultaneously integrating then modern views of the future. Walt and his team had a plan.