Why Disney Adults Have the Taxpayers of Illinois to Thank for…Well, EVERYTHING

Disney Adults! Buckle up because this one’s for you!

American Adventure

Have you ever looked at the Disney World animatronics of say The Hall of Presidents, Spaceship Earth, or The American Adventure and wondered to yourself, “How did these get here?” Well, have we got a story for you and it’s one that by the end of it, you might find yourself saying thanks to an entire state — the state of Illinois! Let’s talk about it!

Yes, you read it right. It turns out that we Disney Adults owe a big thanks to the taxpayers of Illinois. It’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Let’s go!

New York World’s Fair.

So, picture this: It’s the early 60’s, and Walt Disney is busy dreaming up new and fantastical ways to wow the world. Que the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This ginormous event was a real “who’s who” full of futuristic tech and imaginative displays and Walt saw this as the perfect place to showcase his latest innovations. But in order to do that, he would need sponsors to bring his ideas to life. His first pitch was a little something called “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”


Now, this wasn’t just any old sales pitch. Walt had this grand vision of creating an animatronic Abraham Lincoln that would stand up, move, and speak, which was pretty ambitious for the time, right?

The Abraham Lincoln figure is seated prior to a performance at the Illinois State Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. [Courtesy of D23]
Well, the initial reactions from potential sponsors were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic. There just weren’t any bites. Then, when it seemed like this idea would have to go to the scrap heap, the state of Illinois stepped in. Yup, the same state known for its deep-dish pizza and Chicago skyline decided to back Walt’s Lincoln project.

This display of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show is featured at the Walt Disney Family Museum. [Courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum]
For Illinois’ part, they had an interest in showcasing their rich history and connection to Abraham Lincoln, and they saw Walt’s idea as a perfect fit. This sponsorship was exactly what Walt needed. With Illinois on board, Disney’s team had the financial support to develop the technology for the animatronic Lincoln.

The complicated inner workings of the Abraham Lincoln Audio-Animatronics figure. [The Walt Disney Company]]
Here’s the thing: The success of this pitch and the development of the Lincoln project went on to set the stage for all the other incredible attractions Disney would pitch for the fair — i,e. “it’s a small world” ride, “Carousel of Progress,” and more. It’s fair to say that the animatronics technology that was developed for Lincoln became the backbone for many of our favorite attractions that followed.

The Abraham Lincoln figure for the Illinois state pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, was a ground-breaking attraction in the world of theme park entertainment. [Courtesy of D23]
So, as you can imagine, the Illinois-sponsored Mr. Lincoln exhibit was a massive hit at the World’s Fair. This led Disney to continue the development which led to even more advanced animatronics, many of which became staples in Disney World and the other Disney parks.

The exterior of the Illinois State Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.

Without that initial investment from the Illinois taxpayers, who knows what Disney parks would look like today? So the next time you’re at Disney World and enjoying an attraction with animatronics, you can send off a silent thanks to the good people of Illinois.

In the meantime, keep it right here at AllEars for all your Disney World news!

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