The 50th anniversary of the attraction was on April 22, 2014. Portions of the feature film Tomorrowland were filmed here; the attraction was closed for one day so filming could begin there.
Edison Square concept
In the late 1950s, after Disneyland Park's initial success, Walt Disney planned to expand the Main Street, U.S.A. area with two districts: "International Street" and "Edison Square". In Edison Square, guests would be treated to a show hosted by an "electro-mechanical" man named "Wilbur K. Watt". The show would chronicle the evolution of electricity in the home, from the late 19th century to the present and beyond — showing how many electrical appliances, specifically GE appliances, have benefited American life. After each time period, or "act", was over, the audience would get up and walk to the next one.
However, the Main Street expansion idea fell by the wayside. One of the reasons for this was that the technology necessary to put on the show just was not up to par with what Walt Disney wanted. The idea, however, stayed in Disney's mind for the next few years. GE still wanted to work with Disney, but a better outlet was needed.
1964–1965 New York World's Fair
General Electric approached Walt Disney to develop a show for the company's pavilion at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair. Disney leapt at the chance to rekindle his relationship with GE, who would fund the project and the new technology necessary to bring it to life. Reaching back to the Edison Square concept, Walt Disney again pitched the idea of an electrical progress show to General Electric executives and this time they loved it.
During the planning phase, Disney's Imagineers perfected the Audio-Animatronics (AA) technology necessary to operate the "performers" in the show. They were not the most advanced at the time, but it was enough to get the show running. The technology used in Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room and another attraction designed by Disney at the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, made the Carousel of Progress possible. Besides the AA performers, the Imagineers (led by Disney engineers Roger E. Broggie and Bob Gurr) also devised a "carousel theater", so that the audience could stay seated and ride around a stationary set of stages, instead of getting up and walking from stage to stage. This technology allowed the audience to remain comfortably in place during scene changes and avoided the time-consuming disruption of changing seats repeatedly during a show.
Singing cowboy Rex Allen was tapped to voice Father, the host, and narrator of the show that replaced the original "Wilbur K. Watt" character. Allen later commented that he did not know exactly what he was getting into.
Walt Disney asked Disney songwriters Richard M. Sherman, and Robert B. Sherman to create a song that could serve as a bridge between the "acts" in the show. Walt explained to the brothers what the show was about, and they wrote a song with his enthusiasm in mind. The song was titled "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". The Shermans later stated that they believe that the song was Walt's "theme song," because he was so optimistic and excited about the future and technology itself.
The show opened at the Fair as Progressland. It was one of the most-visited pavilions at the Fair. One of the unique features that made the attraction so popular was that a circle of six theaters (all connected by divider walls) revolved clockwise around six fixed stages every four minutes. There were identical load and unload theaters with a dazzling wall of light, the "Kaleidophonic Screen", and the "performers" appeared in the 1890s, 1920s, 1940s, and 1960s — literally a "Carousel of Progress"! Though more than 200 people entered and exited the attraction every four minutes, it was not uncommon to wait over an hour in line. For the 1965 season of the Fair, a massive covered queue was constructed next to the General Electric Pavilion on an empty lot to protect visitors from New York's hot summer sun.
At the end of the show, fairgoers were invited to journey up to the second floor of the pavilion and see the General Electric "Skydome Spectacular". The Skydome Spectacular projected images of nature and energy into the domed roof of the GE pavilion, similar to a planetarium. The show demonstrated the many ways that GE was harnessing electricity and the power of the sun for the benefit of its customers.
The attraction was reopened at Disneyland Park on July 2, 1967, as part of the New Tomorrowland. Due to the success of the attractions Disney created for the Fair, General Electric agreed to sponsor the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland. However, the Carousel of Progress was to be a permanent fixture at Disneyland, and it is unknown how many years General Electric would have sponsored the ride had it stayed there (presumably, 10–12 years, as many other sponsors throughout Disneyland Park have historically done).
The actual attraction was located on ground level, and a new nearly identical theater system was constructed. The sets and "performers" all came right from the Fair itself and remained nearly original. There were some slight changes: a new voice was recorded for Mother, "Christmas in the Home of the 1960s" was slightly updated in set design and technology, all references to General Electric's passé "Medallion Home" campaign were dropped, and Father from "The Home of the 1940s" now sat on a bar stool, rather than on the kitchen nook bench.
After the show, guests boarded a speed ramp that would take them to the second level of the building. On the upper level, a 4-minute post-show, narrated by Mother and Father, with a few barks and growls from their dog, coincided with guests gazing at an enormous model of Progress City. Progress City was based on Walt Disney's original concept for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) and the Walt Disney World property.
As the 1970s rolled in, the attraction saw dwindling audiences. GE thought they were not getting the most for their advertising dollars, surmising that 80% of the people that saw the attraction were Californians, and had seen the same show over and over again. GE asked Disney to move the show to their new Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The Disneyland show closed on September 9, 1973 and was packed up for Florida. The Progress City model was disassembled, but only portions of the center of it were re-assembled in Florida. These can be viewed from the People Mover as it travels through Stitch's Great Escape.
Disneyland soon incorporated The Carousel Theater into its plans to celebrate America's Bicentennial. The theater was filled with a new show in 1974 called "America Sings", a salute to American music. That closed in 1988, not to be replaced for ten years. The Disneyland version of Epcot's popular Innoventions exhibit opened with the New Tomorrowland in 1998, using a stylized rendition of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as its theme song.
The attraction was one of two that opened in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland on January 15, 1975, the other attraction being Space Mountain. General Electric signed a 10-year contract to sponsor it at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Unlike the small changes that had occurred when it moved from the 1964–1965 New York World's Fair to Disneyland, extensive changes were made when the attraction moved to Walt Disney World. While guests are still told to stay seated during the show, the reasons why are different now; while the reason was to prevent deaths (due to the Deborah Gail Stone incident with America Sings), it is now implemented to prevent injuries sustained from losing balance and falling. Also, eating and drinking are prohibited for similar reasons (as the platform's motion could cause a drink to spill or food to fly out of your hand), smoking is not permitted either (due to someone probably breathing in the smoke and coughing), and flash photography isn't permitted either (due to some people having sensitivity to intense flashes of light).
A new carousel theater building was designed to house the attraction: a one-story pavilion, with a loft above instead of a speed ramp and post-show areas. The loft was created so the Tomorrowland Transit Authority could pass above it. The interior and exterior of the building received new color schemes with blue and white stripes that grew smaller and larger as the building turned. Also, the theaters now rotated counterclockwise, rather than clockwise, like the two former theater systems.
The load and unload theaters no longer featured the stunning "Kaleidophonic Screens" that had dazzled guests as they boarded and exited their respective theater. The old screens had stretched from one wall to the other, with the giant GE logo in the center. They lit up in various colors and patterns like a kaleidoscope as the orchestral version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" played. Various problems plagued the screens after 1973, so silver curtains with the GE logo in the center took their place in both the load and unload theaters with different colored lights shining on them.
The Florida version was planned with no post-show. Guests would load and unload on the first floor. The Progress City/EPCOT model was significantly sized down so it could fit in a window display that could be seen from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. This display is located on the left-hand side of the TTA track inside the north show building.
Because of the changing times, a new theme song, written by the Sherman Brothers, was created for the Florida show. GE asked them to write a new song because they did not want their customers to wait for a "great big beautiful tomorrow;" GE wanted them to buy appliances today, so a song titled "The Best Time Of Your Life," better known as "Now is the Time," was created. Although the song was still very peppy and positive, they still felt that "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was a better fit.
A new cast of voices and "performers" were showcased in the 1975 version, including actor Andrew Duggan as Father. The first three "acts" had some cosmetic and set design changes. The finale was changed to "New Years in the Home of the 1970s," and the dog also changed breed.
In 1981, the finale was updated to showcase "New Years in the Home of the 1980s." A new script was written for this scene change, but the rest of the show remained the same. The attraction closed briefly so that the changes could be implemented.
On March 10, 1985, General Electric's contract expired and it chose not to renew. The attraction closed shortly thereafter so that all General Electric references could be removed from the attraction. The GE logo was replaced with a logo that showed a blueprint of the six carousel theaters surrounding the six fixed stages on the signs outside of the attraction and the silver GE curtain was kept but a round sign with the blueprint logo and the name Carousel of Progress hid the GE logo. The GE logo still exists on several household appliances throughout the attraction, like the refrigerator in Act 3, which features the GE logo and the words "General Electric" on it. This is one of the remaining logos that can still be seen today.
On August 16, 1993 the attraction closed for refurbishment to better reflect the theme of the New Tomorrowland: "The Future that Never Was." Gears and other mechanical symbols were being prominently featured in the other pavilions in the New Tomorrowland, so the attraction was redesigned to feature them. It was renamed Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress in honor of the man that created the whole thing from start to finish. A giant cog sign in the load and unload theaters that says "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" replaced the blueprint sign. The final scene was updated to "Christmas in the House of 2000" (as envisioned in 1994). A new cast was hired for the narration recordings, with American writer, raconteur and radio personality Jean Shepherd as the voice of the father. Additionally, Rex Allen, the voice of the father at the original Disneyland attraction, plays the grandfather in Act 4 of the show (he also narrates the pre-show film outside); B.J. Ward takes over the role of Sarah the mother, while Debi Derryberry voices the daughter (renamed Patricia). While casting this version of the show, Disney Imagineer, Paul Osterhout took over the role of the son, James, in the final act. For the first time, the names of some of the characters in the attraction were revealed. A 4-minute pre-show about the creation of the attraction plays on monitors while guests wait in line. A contemporary version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" returned as the attraction's theme song. The attraction reopened on November 23, 1993 and was the first updated attraction for the New Tomorrowland, which was unveiled in phases. Since then, the attraction has undergone many slight mechanical and cosmetic changes, but no scripting changes quite yet.
Because of a decrease in attendance following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the attraction closed in October 2001. It reopened soon afterward on a seasonal basis, causing fans to become concerned for its future. Although numerous "permanent closure" rumors still plague the attraction, Disney has consistently said that there are no plans for permanent closure or any closure at all, as Walt would be furious from beyond death if it was closed for good. For various reasons, the attraction has had some minor refurbishments in recent years. Though it is still listed as a seasonal attraction, it has remained open nearly every day of the year and during the Magic Kingdom's regular park hours since 2003.
In 2016, the entire building received a cosmetic update. Gone are the gears and cogs painted on the walls, now the building has a streamlined look in the colors orange, blue, and magenta. The attraction also received a new entry sign and logo, or in this case old logo. The blueprint design made for "The Best Time Of Your Life" version of the show has been utilized as the new logo for the attraction. However, the gears in the first and sixth theaters of the attraction are still intact, but are expected to be removed soon.
In 2017, a Tomorrowland cast member announced, via Twitter, that the attraction will receive a new script as well as new actors, with an unknown refurbishment date. However, the tweet has since been deleted so it is currently unknown if the revamped show is still under development.
The basic plot of the show has essentially remained unchanged since it debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The circular center stage is divided into six equal scenes, surrounded by six 240-seat audience sections which revolve from one to the next.
Each of the scenes featured a male dog, who would bark, or growl at the wrong moments, causing the master to firmly scold the creature to behave itself.
The first and last scenes involve the loading and unloading of guests. The middle four scenes depict an Audio-Animatronic family appreciating the technological advances of succeeding eras of the 20th century. Each of the four scenes is set around a holiday associated with one of the four seasons of the year. The progress of the seasons, as well as the progress of clothing and even language, serves as a metaphor for the progress of the development of the modern age of electricity.
The first act takes place during Valentine's Day around the beginning of the 20th century and features the family using innovations for that era, including gas lamps, a kitchen pump, a telephone, a cast-iron coal stove, a hand-cranked washing machine, an icebox, and a gramophone. A mention of the St. Louis World's Fair dates the scene to 1904. The second act features devices such as electric lighting and cookware, radio, a sewing machine, and a stronger-looking ice box during the 4th of July holiday in the 1920s (the Charles Lindbergh reference makes the year most likely 1927, seven years after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by Congress). The third act, takes place in the 1940s (though the decor more resembles the 1950s), with innovations still in use today such as an automatic dishwasher, television, and a much bigger refrigerator.
The final scene is set around Christmas and depicts the family interacting with recent technology. As such, it has changed since the show debuted in 1964. While originally featuring the family's home in the 1960s, it currently features high-definition television, virtual reality video games and peripherals, voice-activated appliances, and other recent innovations.
|Father, John||Rex Allen||Andrew Duggan||Jean Shepherd|
|Mother, Sarah||Rhoda Williams||Sharon Douglas||Coreen Connolly||B.J. Ward|
|Daughter, Jane||Rori Gwynne||Claudia Johnson||N/A|
|Daughter, Patricia||N/A||Debi Derryberry|
|Young Son, James||N/A||Al Able||Peter Nelson|
|Teenage Son, James||Al Able||Gary Morgan||Paul Osterhout|
|Grandmother||Barbara Luddy||Peggy Stewart||Mary Cervantes|
|Grandmother (Act IV)||N/A||Peggy Stewart||Dena Dietrich||Janet Waldo|
|Grandfather||Bill Keene||James Gregory||Rex Allen|
|Cousin Orville||Mel Blanc|
|Radio Personalities||N/A||Noel Blanc|
The show draws much of its inspiration from industrial films that American appliance manufacturers funded to demonstrate how their products would change the pattern of domestic chores and improve life. The desire to sell during the Great Depression and the rural electrification projects of the New Deal were two of the motivating forces behind these films.
Also, there are the remnants of an exhibition from the 1933 Century of Progress exposition in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry that feature four typical rooms of Chicago houses in various decades prior to the exhibition.
From October 1, 1983, until January 9, 1999, an attraction known as Horizons existed at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was more or less a sequel to the Carousel of Progress, depicting the host family living and working in technologically-enhanced environments in the near future. During the first portion of its run, it was also sponsored by General Electric (1983–1994). In it, there was a scene where a robot was "working" in the kitchen, making quite a mess, among other things. In the background, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" could be heard. In 2009, Space Mountain featured several tributes to it in its post-show.
Also in 1983, Meet the World, at Tokyo Disneyland, was an attraction that was housed in a rotating theater. It featured both audio-animatronics and video, looking at thousands of years of Japanese history. It closed in 2002.
Innoventions (1998–2015), the current occupant of the building formerly used for the attraction at Disneyland, depicts a few images from it on its colorful exterior murals, and the Innoventions character Tom Morrow sings an updated version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow". Banners hung from the building depict it and other past attractions, along with their inception dates. Inside, the ASIMO show features a stage set reminiscent of the "contemporary" scene in it, including a view of the Community of Tomorrow through the set's picture window. The ASIMO exit music is the original Rex Allen recording from it at Disneyland.
In the film Iron Man 2, Tony Stark promotes the "Stark Expo", a fictional version of the World's Fair. The attraction's original building can be seen on the map of the Stark Expo 2010 website as the Kodak Pavilion. The Ford Magic Skyway pavilion can also be seen nearby, north of the Fountain of Planets, incorporated as the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Pavilion. In addition, Richard Sherman wrote the Stark Expo's theme song, "Make Way for Tomorrow Today." Also, the game Epic Mickey features the ride as part of the land called Tomorrow City.
The entire soundtrack for the Disneyland version (1967–1973) can be heard on A Musical History of Disneyland (2005). The soundtrack was also released as part of the 5-disc CD set Walt Disney and the 1964 World's Fair released on March 24, 2009 which includes instrumental versions of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" representing different eras of progress, and an early "Alternate Universe" version of the complete show. The complete 1975 "Now is the Time" version was found on Walt Disney World Forever. The current (1994) theme song of the show, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", is currently only available on the multi-disc album "Four Parks - One World: Walt Disney World", along with other hard-to-find songs from the Walt Disney World parks.
Current Show Structure
- Act 1: Spring, Turn of the 20th Century: See how advances like gas lamps, the hand-cranked washing machine, and a gramophone made the pre-electric era a breeze. (The original show in 1964, according to the father's newspaper, mentions 1890; however, the modern version implies that it's 1904 instead).
- Act 2: Summer, 1920s: Behold modern conveniences like the electric iron, the radio, the sewing machine, and the light bulb – brought to life through the power of electricity.
- Act 3: Autumn, 1940s: The automatic dishwasher, an electric exercise machine and the introduction of the television are just some of the wonders that made life in suburbia even easier.
- Act 4: Winter, The Present: Today's high-tech marvels include virtual reality-based video games, high-definition televisions and voice-activated household appliances.
- Mel Blanc (Cousin Orville/Parrot) is the only actor who has appeared in every version of the show.
- It is assumed that the audio recorded by Clarence Nash (Robins) has been used in every version of the show, making him the only other actor in every show.
- With Jean Shepherd providing the voice of the father in the current version of the attraction, an allusion to his film A Christmas Story can be found in the final Christmas scene in the form of a Red Ryder BB Gun being among the presents under the tree.
- Outside the window in Act 3, Imagineer Herb Ryman's name can be found on a sign for a law office.
- A note on the bulletin board in the current Act 4 reads "Marty Called, Wants Changes!", a reference to Marty Sklar, the former head of Walt Disney Imagineering.
- The 1964 version has the same whistling/tweeting birds seen in Mary Poppins, which was released the same year.
- In 2010, a cast member working on the attraction was fired for bullying and screaming at a guest to remain seated during it. However, it should be noted that it was just getting into its prologue as he began screaming. After it finished, he continued to scream at the guest. Other cast members hearing about it notified management and the guilty cast member was promptly fired. (This actually has occurred before with thousands of guests that were not standing, e.g. a cast member screaming for no reason whatsoever). As of 2011, a host is now required to welcome guests and calmly tell them the rules of the attraction.
- The voice of the grandfather in the final act of the current show is Rex Allen, who voiced the father in the 1964 version. The current voice of the father is Jean Shepherd.