The Story of Disney’s Lost World’s Fair Attraction: Ford’s Magic Skyway
A collaboration between Disney and Ford created one of the most memorable attractions at the 1964 World's Fair. Unfortunately, the ride never made it to any of the Disney theme parks.
For both Ford Motor Company and Walt Disney, the 1964 New York World’s Fair was a watershed moment. Ford was planning to introduce its new Mustang model at the World’s Fair, hoping that the “pony car” would be a success for the Ford Brand.
Meanwhile, Disney received the opportunity to test out new technologies for his theme parks at the World’s Fair via partnerships with four different corporate partners. One of the companies Disney and his Imagineers partnered with was Ford, and together, the two crafted one of the great lost Disney attractions: Ford’s Magic Skyway.
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By the time that the 1964 World’s Fair took place, Disneyland had been open for roughly a decade. While the theme park was a smash hit in its early years, Disney was constantly looking to introduce new innovations for the park.
Furthermore, Disney was also planning to develop a second theme park somewhere on the East Coast, but wanted to see how East Coast audiences would respond to his attractions. The 1964 World’s Fair in New York granted him the opportunity to accomplish both of these tasks.
The various companies with pavilions at the World’s Fair needed to create experiences that fair attendees would remember for years to come. Disneyland was ingrained in the minds of the general public, so several of these companies decided to turn to Disney and his top Imagineers to create signature attractions and shows for the fair.
Disney and the Imagineers partnered with four different organizations, developing a unique attraction for each. At the fair’s Illinois pavilion, Disney demonstrated his top-of-the-line audio-animatronics during the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” show. The General Electric pavilion housed the “Progressland” exhibit, with the “Carousel of Progress” serving as the star attraction. For his partnership with Pepsi-Cola, Disney developed what would eventually become one of Disneyland’s most popular attractions: It’s a Small World.
Finally, Disney developed what was likely the most ambitious attraction for the Ford Motor Company. This would eventually be dubbed “Ford’s Magic Skyway.”
Disney Imagineers were already working on a ride system that would keep fixed ride vehicles moving at a constant pace along a mechanized track. This technology was one that piqued the interest of Ford, since the automaker wanted to move as many people through its pavilion as possible.
Ford also wanted to promote established models, like the Thunderbird and Falcon, while simultaneously showcasing the new Ford Mustang vehicle. For this reason, Ford’s Magic Skyway would utilize actual Ford cars as its ride vehicles.
These Ford cars were fixed to the vehicle’s ride track, so guests couldn’t operate them manually. Disney and Ford also decided to make all of the featured models convertibles to maximize on visibility throughout the ride.
The new track system helped to increase capacity for the ride, ensuring guests were constantly ushered in and out of the pavilion at a record pace. By creating two separate tracks for the attraction, Ford’s Magic Skyway could transport 4,000 guests an hour.
The attraction was the largest of any that Disney and his team developed for the fair. It measured 273,000 square feet, while the track ran for roughly a half mile.
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Guests waiting in line for the ride were greeted by miniature villages and an animated orchestra comprised entirely out of Ford vehicle parts. Speed ramps would transport these guests to the upper level of the pavilion, where the ride’s loading station was located.
Guests would then enter the convertible Ford vehicles, which sat four passengers. Once everyone was situated, the 12-minute experience began.
Guests entered a rotunda designed to resemble the recently destroyed Ford Rotunda in Dearborn, Michigan. Inside the rotunda was a large glass tunnel, where riders could observe new Ford models located on the lower floor.
From there, the vehicles entered into a “time tunnel,” which transported them into a prehistoric forest. This scene was populated by dozens of audio-animatronic dinosaurs.
These prehistoric creatures proved to be an exciting challenge for the Imagineering team. While the Imagineers had previously worked on animatronic animals for the Jungle Cruise attraction, the Dinosaurs on display were much larger, and some even had more fluid motions.
After witnessing a battle between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Stegosaurus, guests next found themselves surrounded by prehistoric cavemen. The cavemen were seen warding off a Woolly Mammoth, starting fires, and, perhaps most appropriately for the attraction, developing the wheel.
The vehicles next traveled from the past into the future. This section of the ride was dubbed “Space City,” and it was populated with Ford technology, both real and conceptual in nature.
Before the ride came to an end, Walt Disney himself narrated a final speech for the ride:
“This is Walt Disney speaking. Our Space City is a distant dream. But all such dreams must begin in the minds of men. Men like the scientists, engineers and automotive designers of Ford Motor Company. I hope you enjoyed our show and your ride on The Magic Skyway in a new Ford product as much as I’ve enjoyed the Fords I have driven through the years. Now step out and see a world where tomorrow is being created today.”
Guests then exited the ride, entering some of Ford’s corporate exhibits. Here, guests would not only learn about new tech that Ford was developing, but get an up-close look at Ford’s new Mustang model.
The Sherman Brothers, songwriters and frequent collaborators with Disney, even crafted a unique song to promote the Ford models on display. The composition, named “Get the Feel of the Wheel of a Ford,” can be heard below:
Ford’s Magic Skyway quickly became one of the most popular attractions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. But while Disney’s other World’s Fair attractions were eventually brought over to Disneyland, Ford’s Magic Skyway never became a full-fledged attraction at the theme park.
Ford had seriously considered sponsoring a modified version of the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at Disneyland. However, the automaker ultimately decided not to sponsor such a ride. Without a sponsor, Disney decided not to bring the ride over to Disneyland.
Of course, Ford’s Magic Skyway lives on in a way at the Disney theme parks. The track system was eventually utilized for the Peoplemover attraction located in Tomorrowland. As for the dinosaurs, Disney Imagineers ultimately added them to a new diorama that the Disneyland Railroad traveled through.
Today, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and It’s a Small World remain signature attractions at the Disney theme parks. While Ford’s Magic Skyway ultimately never left the 1964 World’s Fair, it helped to pave the way for a great, big, beautiful tomorrow for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Zachary Berry currently resides in the Dayton, Ohio area. However, he enjoys traveling from place to place, as he was born in Oklahoma City and has also lived in Albuquerque and Orlando (such is the life of a military brat). Zachary graduated from Ohio University with a major in Strategic Communication, which is fancy talk for advertising and public relations. Beginning his career at The News Wheel as a lowly intern, he was able to climb his way to the top, eventually claiming his place within the last cubicle on the left. Other jobs that Zachary has held include driving around a safari truck at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. When he’s not putting his nose to the grindstone, Zachary enjoys watching and critiquing movies and television. See more articles by Zachary.