History of Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Posted:  Educational Parks Recreation

Located in the Tomorrowland section of Disney’s Magic Kingdom is one of a handful of attractions at Walt Disney World that Walt himself had a major role in creating.

Carousel of Progress sign

Sadly Mr. Disney passed away a number of years before the park in Florida opened, but Carousel of Progress first debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, and Walt was a major contributor to Imagineering the project. Sponsored by General Electric, the show is based on a family going through various technological changes throughout the years. General Electric was mentioned many times throughout the original version of the show, appliances in the production all bore the GE logo, and the name of the company was displayed outside the theater.

I was ten in 1964 and was lucky enough to live minutes away from the NY World’s Fair.  My family attended the Fair many times.  Disney had 4 attractions in total, Carousel of Progress (known as Progressland at the Fair); It’s a Small World; Magic Skyway (driver-less cars that took you past scenes from the history of Earth a la the Epcot attraction Spaceship Earth), and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (an audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln show, which still exists in Disneyland today, and was the precursor to the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World). I enjoyed all of the Disney attractions at the Fair, but I adored Progressland/Carousel of Progress.  I had never seen audio-animatronics before, the ‘60s was very big on “progress”, and I found the show positively enthralling. I was far from alone in my assessment of the show, it was very popular and waits of over an hour were not uncommon. On the busiest days over 4500 people had the pleasure of watching the show.  Back then there was nothing like it on the East Coast, and the show will always hold a special place in my heart.

Daughter Patty from the Carousel of Progress

When the NY World’s Fair ended, the attraction was moved to Disneyland in California. The (now named) G.E. Carousel of Progress in Disneyland was a two-level pavilion and had the capacity to seat 3,600 people per hour. The first level contained the same basic acts as could be seen at the World’s Fair. However, at the end of the final scene, guests stepped onto a ramp that carried them to the pavilion’s second level. There they viewed Progress City, Walt’s original model of EPCOT that never came to fruition.  If you go on the People Mover in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World, you can see a large piece of this very model during the ride. During its six years at Disneyland Park, more than 31 million people saw the Carousel of Progress.

In 1973, the attraction was moved to Walt Disney World. The original theme music for the attraction was replaced with a new one called “The Best Time of Your Life.” In 1993 the show underwent some changes, one of which returned the original show’s music, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. While both songs were written by the famous Sherman Brothers, this song is the one we still hear today when we go on the ride. TIPS: If you have a hearing loss, ask one of the cast members at the podium at the ride entrance. They will give you a written transcript (and a small flashlight), so you can follow the dialogue. Additionally, the show is accessible to those in wheelchairs.

So let’s go over some interesting facts you may not know about this 55 year old show!

30th Anniversary pin for the Carousel of Progress

  • The name of the dog in the show has changed over the years. For quite some time he has been known as Rover, but he has also been known as Buster, Sport, and Queenie. When the show first moved from Disneyland to Disney World the dog had a different name for each scene. He’s Rover in all of the scenes we see currently.
  • Speaking of Scenes, the show is divided into 4 parts, all connected to a holiday and different time of year. We have Spring during Valentine’s day, Summer on the 4th of July, Fall on Halloween and Winter during Christmas.

Spring scene from the Carousel of Progress

  • The stage does not move; it’s the seated audience that rotates from scene to scene, thus the name “carousel”. There was great thought behind the idea of a rotating theater: The technology allowed guests to remain seated comfortably and had the added bonus of not wasting time changing seats as the show changed from scene to scene.
  • Mel Blanc, the original voice of Bugs Bunny, is the voice talent who does the speaking for the ever complaining “no privacy around here” Uncle Orville.
  • There is a young girl in the first scene, who never is named, never reappears, and is not mentioned in any of the other scenes. I assume it is another daughter younger than Patricia, who is seen and mentioned many times throughout the show, but no one really knows for sure. Patricia’s brother Jimmy is also seen and mentioned more than once.

  • The show makes excellent use of a material called scrim. While the main action takes place center stage, there are other scenes that play out on both sides of the stage as well. These are hidden by scrim and can only be seen if they are lit a certain way. The areas rotate 180 degrees when the light is turned off, so in each “year” you see two different scenes in these side areas.

Grandparents from the Carousel of Progress in a Scrim scene

  • Scenes represented in the original version at the NY World’s Fair took place in the 1890s, 1920s, 1940s and 1960s. The first three years have remained the same since then, but the final scene has been updated a number of times.

final scene from the Carousel of Progress

  • Although GE withdrew their sponsorship of the attraction in 1985 there are still some shout-outs to the company in the current version of the show, mostly on the names of the appliances visible in some scenes.

 kitchen scene from the Carousel of Progress showcasing the GE appliances

  • Rex Allen, the voice of the father in the show at Disneyland, voices the grandfather in the show now at Walt Disney World.
  • Due to an attendance drop following 9/11/01, Carousel of Progress became a seasonal attraction; open only during very busy times. This changed in 2003, and now the show can be seen daily. It sometimes closes earlier than other park attractions and is usually not open on special event nights, such as DVC moonlight magic and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
  • From 1983 until 1999 there was an attraction at Epcot called Horizons. The attraction was basically a sequel to Carousel of Progress, showing the family working with new technology. Sponsored by GE for most of its run, the song “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was audible in the background of one of the scenes from the attraction.
  • The Sherman Brothers have been quoted as saying that “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was Walt’s theme song because it showed a similar kind of optimism about the future that Walt believed in.
  • The robins outside the window in the first scene were the same robins used in the movie Mary Poppins.
  • The final scene has a number of hidden Mickeys. There is a Mickey nutcracker over the fireplace; a wrapped gift by the Christmas tree with a huge Mickey Icon on it; A plush Mickey, also by the tree; Salt and Pepper Shakers with Mickey shaped tops on the kitchen counter.

Hidden Mickey Christmas gift from the Carousel of Progress

Hidden Mickey Salt and Pepper shakers from the Carousel of Progress

  • Additionally, the last scene has some cool shout outs. If you look at the corkboard on the wall all the way on the right you will see a note tacked up on it that says “Marty called, wants changes” This refers to the well-known Imagineer Marty Sklar, the former head of Walt Disney Imagineering, and was added in 1994 when the Carousel underwent its last major refurbishment.

Corkboard with note from Marty from the Carousel of Progress

  • To the left of the corkboard is a dry erase board. Written on the board is that the Grandparents are due to fly on flight #1964–the year the show opened at the NY World’s Fair

There is never a wait for this attraction. Although it is the favorite of many, it is seen by some as dated.  It’s also long; the full show is 20 minutes, so small kids can get bored (although it’s a great nap ride for some little ones!). But every time there is talk of removing it there is a huge outcry from fans.

Mom and mystery daughter from the Carousel of Progress

The Carousel of Progress is one of the only shows in existence at Walt Disney World that Walt himself had a direct hand in creating. Not only do I hope the attraction is around for a long time, but I would also love to see more merchandise available based on the show.  There is virtually nothing available to buy currently, although pins and t-shirts have been available in the past. Hopefully, that will change soon. I hope everyone reading this has a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow!

Summer scene from the Carousel of Progress




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