Carousel of Progress: A Tribute to Walt’s Optimism

Carousel of Progress
Credit: Disney

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress began as a Disney-made attraction for General Electric at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. It was named Progressland at the Fair. This ride marvel was the first to move the audience, keeping the stage stationary. It is also the first show to take advantage of a completely Audio-Animatronic family of actors. This Audio-Animatronic show is a look back and ahead at progress in the area of technology during the 20th century. We see how progress has affected our lives over the past decades and consider the possibilities in the future (which has already happened in this case). It highlights the same family through the years. In this case, the actors are audio-animatronic figures representing four generations of the same family.

Outside, as you are waiting in the queue, you can watch some footage on TV screens about the designing of the original attraction, with the discussion being led by Walt Disney himself. It is entertaining and a great reminder of Walt’s legacy. It reveals things like the Carousel of Progress is the longest-running theater show in America. It has the advantage of having the first Audio-Animatronic family to thank for that title. It is the oldest exhibit in Walt Disney World and is the only one in the Florida parks that Walt physically had his hands on. Walt lived the American Dream and wanted to pass that on to others. We could use more of his personal outlook today. If every American approached their dreams like Walt Disney did, who knows how much farther along we would be today. I appreciate seeing footage of Walt Disney that I remember watching on television, and the opportunity for younger generations to hear Walt and see his excitement for themselves.

The show is 21-minutes in length. Travel from the time when gas lanterns, gramophones and hand-operated washing machines made life easier (1890s). In the next part of the show we see big advancements in the household such as an electric iron, electric lights, a radio, and a sewing machine (1920s). Keep traveling through time to see a television, dishwasher, and an exercise machine (1940s). In the final family Christmas scene (1960s) we see Grandma playing a virtual reality game on an HD TV and the family discovers some pitfalls of learning to use a new voice-activated appliance.

~There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow~ is the song that leads you into the each wave of advancements. The song was composed by the famous Sherman Brothers. We hear the theme song and the theater seating area begins to move in a counter clockwise motion. The stage remains stationary and the audience moves around it. Hence the “Carousel” in the name. This is pure Walt Disney! It is optimistic and celebrates the family as much as technology. Walt was an enthusiastic supporter of progress and had many inventions of his own.

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General Electric was interested in Walt’s theater of progress for a long period of time but the project was set aside as technology advancements were still needed. When the World’s Fair came along and GE wanted a pavilion, they approached Walt again to make them the attraction. Walt created General Electric’s Progressland (now the Carousel of Progress) and the bill was paid for by General Electric. Following the close of the World’s Fair, Progressland was taken apart and shipped back to Disneyland where it re-opened as the Carousel of Progress, with GE remaining as the sponsor. When Walt Disney World was to open GE wanted to be a part of it because they thought it would open up a wider audience base for them. At their request, Carousel of Progress was again dismantled and shipped to Florida where it opened in January 1975. It was placed in Tomorrowland, right next door to Space Mountain that opened the same day as CoP. WDW changed the final scene to one from the 1970s. A new musical tract was added by the Sherman Brothers, “The Best Time of Your Life” because GE thought it needed to spark people’s desire NOW for their products, not tomorrow. The song was acceptable, but not as popular as the first one. When it was the right time to add the 1980s to the finale the change was made. A few years later, GE no longer wanted to sponsor the attraction. Disney removed the GE logos from all the props. In 1994 a newly retitled attraction opened, “Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress” and is was accompanied by a new recording of the classic “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. Another change, unlike the series of updates that had occurred previously, was set in the 2000s for the finale. There are six theater positions with the first and last are being used for entry or departure. The new entry scene now dedicates the attraction to Walt Disney. This is the version of the attraction that we see today.

The father of the family, John, speaks about how the improvements have changed life in his household. The seating area moves on steel wheels along a track at the speed of 2 feet per second, or 1.4 mph. This attraction has come under scrutiny for still being in Tomorrowland when it obviously does not represent the future anymore. As a big Disney history buff, what I cannot condone is talk about it being completely redesigned. I like having a piece of history that Walt himself worked on and enjoy it on that level. I would not object to relocating it to a new section of a park focusing on things that are attributable to Walt himself. This attraction represents a time that was dear to Walt and celebrates progress during his lifetime. I would even love to see a similar attraction that highlights all the technological improvements Walt Disney was personally responsible for. I believe it would be very entertaining and would be visited by more guests than have previously visited One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Speaking of One Man’s Dream, if you have not seen it all, go in there, you are really missing something special!

About Cassie

Cassie L. I am a lifelong Disney fan. I attended Walt Disney World in 1971, and was there during the opening week of EPCOT, and have visited the Disney Parks for than 30 times. I have had the privilege of visiting Disneyland as a child, and then again with my children. My family recently moved from the northeastern United States to the Walt Disney World area. I now have cast members in my family and enjoy hearing the magical stories at the end of a shift. I love visiting all of the parks and getting to try more Disney food and being able to share it with you to help you plan your own magical day at Disney.