Few Walt Disney World attractions are more under appreciated by the common Disney guest than Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress located in Tomorrowland of the Magic Kingdom. The Carousel not only provides a welcome air-conditioned respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowds, but also provides a glimpse into the mind of the man who really created the entire empire – Walt Disney.
To start at the beginning, Disney was asked by General Electric (GE) to design an attraction for their pavilion at the upcoming 1964 New York World’s Fair. For a few years before that, Walt had been toying with the idea of chronicling the rise of technology over the last century as it related to a family, and what better way to pay for it than with a sponsor like GE.
Intent on trying to provide a new experience for the guests, Disney demanded that new technology created by his company be used in the attraction. Known as audio-animatronics, these mechanical devices were created to resemble life-like characters including humans and animals. Walt had been perfecting the technology first introduced in his Enchanted Tiki Room and improved for another World’s Fair attraction Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln which featured an audio-animatronic of past President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (Walt’s favorite president).Walt Disney further enhanced the experience by letting guests sit in their same seats during the entire performance, which rotated around six different stages in a carousel fashion. The first and last stage consisted of just a show of lights in which the guests were welcomed and loaded and then at the conclusion they were allowed to exit.
In between, four more stages were shown introducing the audience to a family as it advanced into and through the 20th century, all the time reminding them of the technology General Electric had brought to the table over that same course of time.
At its introduction in the World’s Fair, it was entitled Progressland and was one of the most popular in the entire fair. Visitors were treated to scenes of the aforementioned family in the 1890’s, the 1920’s, the 1940’s and the 1960’s. In between scenes, a song written by famed Disney songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman called “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was played.
At the conclusion of the World’s Fair, the attraction was moved to the new Tomorrowland section of Disneyland where it remained relatively unchanged for several years until it closed in 1973.
In response to a request by General Electric who was still sponsoring the attraction, it was moved to the new Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World in 1974. GE felt that they would get more bang for their advertising buck in the new park.
Walt Disney World has kept the show operating (with several updates) ever since. The attraction is thought by many to have been one of Walt Disney’s favorites, and there are rumors that he requested it remain open forever.
That may or may not be true, but for the most part the Carousel Of Progress has been running continuously for decades. In fact, the narrator even states that it is the longest running stage-show in the history of American theater.
One thing is for certain, the Carousel Of Progress is a gem that any true Disney fan should not miss.
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Thanks to MNWDWMANIAC who provided the video of the first half of the 20-plus minute show shown above.