Facts and Secrets About Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

in Walt Disney World

Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress

Credit: Disney

There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day.

Walt Disney and WED Enterprises teamed up and created what is now the longest-running stage show in American theater history. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress was originally created as the prime feature of the General Electric Pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, but I bet you didn’t know it actually has been in a total of three different locations, which brings me to the fact that there is much more to this attraction than one may realize.

That is why we created an entire guide to everything you need to know about Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress!

carousel of progress
Credit: Disney

What is Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress?

This attraction, created by Walt Disney himself, is a rotating theater audio-animatronic stage show attraction, currently located in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort. The official description listed on the Walt Disney World website reads:

Travel through the 20th century and marvel at the evolution of technology during this classic Audio-Animatronics show.

Follow an American family over 4 generations of progress and watch technology transform their lives.

During each era, learn how the technological marvels of the day made life more comfortable—and paved the way for unimaginable innovations.

Discover how gas lamps, the hand-cranked washing machine and gramophone made the pre-electric era a breeze.

Watch the advent of electricity give rise to modern conveniences like the electric iron, the radio—and the simple, revolutionary light bulb.

See how the automatic dishwasher and television set transformed the American household.

Today’s high-tech marvels include virtual-reality games, high-definition televisions and voice-activated household appliances. Imagine the wonders the next hundred years may bring!

carousel of progress
Credit: ITM

History of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Edison Square concept

In the late 1950s, Walt Disney wanted to expand Main Street U.S.A. with two different districts, International Street and Edison Square. Edison Square would be home to a show, which was supposed to be called “Harnessing the Lighting”, and would showcase the evolution of electricity in the home from the late 19th century to the present (and beyond).  After each era ended, the Guests would then get up and walk to the next one, however, this idea was eventually scrapped and Disney had to go back to the drawing boards.

1964 New York World’s Fair

Not long after the idea of “Harnessing the Lighting” was scrapped, General Electric approached Disney to see if he could develop a show for the GE pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The company would fund the project and the new technology to bring it to life so Disney felt he couldn’t pass it up — Plus, it could help his relationship with the company. He immediately thought of his Edison Square concept and pitched the idea of an “electrical progress show” to the company’s executives. They loved the idea and moved forward with it.

Walt Disney asked songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, who you may know for creating many other Disney classics including the music for Mary Poppins, to create a song for the idea Disney had. He explained that he wanted the song to play as a segway between acts and the Sherman Brothers came up with what is now known as “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. 

carousel of progress
Credit: D23

The Sherman Brothers later shared that they created this song with Walt in mind and they believe that it was Walt’s “theme song,” since he was very optimistic and excited about the future and technology.

D23 writes:

General Electric Carousel of Progress Attraction at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, later moved to Tomorrowland at Disneyland, where it opened July 2, 1967. Closed September 9, 1973 and moved to Walt Disney World. America Sings then moved into the carousel theater at Disneyland. At Disneyland, the attraction was tied to the theme song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, ” which echoed General Electric’s then current philosophy. The attraction featured the increased importance of electricity in the home through four different scenes of an Audio-Animatronics family. When the attraction moved to Walt Disney World, where it opened on January 15, 1975, the theme song changed to “The Best Time of Your Life, ” reflecting General Electric’s changed philosophy. General Electric ended sponsorship in 1985, but the attraction continues to operate, and to satisfy nostalgia buffs, the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was returned during a 1993 rehab, which also saw a theming of the four tableaux to various holidays. It was renamed Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in 1994.

Fun Fact: For all of you fans of A Christmas Story, the narrator of this classic film is featured on the Carousel of Progress as John — the main narrator and the father!

Credit: Disney

Where Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is Located

I bet you didn’t know that Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress has actually been in three different locations! That’s right — It was first created under the name “Progressland” for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Following its success, it was then moved to Disneyland park and renamed “Carousel of Progress”.

Then, in 1975, Disney moved this attraction to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World where it was rewritten and renamed again as “The Best Time of Your Life. However, to stick to its origins, Disney decided to once again rename the attraction in 1994 and it is now referred to as Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.

The official Disney World website explains these moves and name changes as:

Walt Disney originally conceived the show as part of a new area at Disneyland Park called Edison Square. When the concept was abandoned, the idea was reimagined, eventually opening under the name “Progressland” at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

With the classic song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” by the Academy Award®-winning team of brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, the show was an instant hit. Following its success, the show moved to Disneyland Park and was renamed “The Carousel of Progress.”

In 1975, the attraction moved to Magic Kingdom park where it was rewritten and restaged with a new theme song, “The Best Time of Your Life.”

In the true spirit of progress, the show was reworked in 1994 to its initial incarnation with the original theme song intact—as a tribute to nostalgia.

carousel of progress
Credit: Inside the Magic Kelly C.

The Storyline of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

When Guests approach the attraction, they will hear a pre-show video play on the televisions, which talks about the history and development of Carousel of Progress. It includes clips of Walt Disney himself along with The Sherman Brothers, singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.

Once Guests enter the rotating theater and have a seat, they will follow an American family over 4 generations of progress and watch technology transform and change their lives.

Act One

In act one, we are taken back to the 1900s as John, the family father, is sitting in his home with Rover, the family dog, by his side. He starts off by telling the audience it is “right around the turn of the century” and then proceeds to discuss all of the new inventions during this time — Including Thomas Edison’s idea for “snap-on electric lights”.

John then highlights all of the new technology and appliances within his home as well as explaining how some problems such as chopping wood, souring milk, and getting water from the well are all things of the past now. The audience then meets John’s wife, Sarah, who shows off her new “wash-day marvel” and explains how she can now do laundry in five hours instead of two days. The show proceeds to introduce other family members including James, the family’s son, who is caught using John’s stereoscope without his permission.

John proceeds to tell Guests other technology highlights during the 1900s such as “one of those new talking machines”, which leads to the family’s grandmother, who we see has fallen asleep while listening to the phonograph, which is the talking machine John referred to. We then meet another member of the family, the daughter Patricia, as she is getting ready to go to a Valentine’s Day dance. John explains Patricia will be taking one of the new “horseless trolleys”, which John loves to take to get a root beer, also known as sarsaparilla.

The scene comes to an end and “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” begins to play as the audience is rotated to the next act.

carousel of progress
Credit: Inside the Magic Kelly C.

Act Two

In act two, we move ahead twenty years to the 1920s. John is on stage, sitting in his kitchen and we soon realize it is Independence Day. He begins the scene by telling the audience that the “Roaring Twenties” has several new accomplishments such as Charles Lindbergh is about to fly over the Atlantic Ocean by himself, people being able to travel by train from New York to California in 3 days and cars now having electric starters so they no longer need to crank them. Additionally, John talks about how sports stadiums are being built all over the United States and even makes mention that Babe Ruth is the country’s best baseball player.

John then goes on to tell the Guests that Thomas Edison has brought electricity to his home, in which he proceeds to show off all of his electrics. It doesn’t take long before he not only blows a fuse in his own home but the entire block. John soon asks his son, Jimmy, to put in a new fuse and we soon hear Jimmy start to complain as every time they have company over, a fuse blows.

carousel of progress
Credit: Inside the Magic

The power comes back on and the rest of the family begins their Independence Day celebration prep work as they see Sarah working on sewing a George and Martha Washington costume. John and Sarah go back and forth, interrupting one another in which Rover, the family dog, then begins to bark. John then makes a joking remark saying “Don’t interrupt while Sarah’s interrupting”.

The scene continues on as Sarah lets John know that Jimmy, their son, volunteered to pick the music for the Independence Day celebration, which we then see him on the side stage in a colonial outfit tapping his feet to the music. Patricia, the daughter, is sitting in a room on the other side of the stage, wearing a Statue of Liberty costume. She expresses that she hopes her new boyfriend doesn’t see her in the costume because he may run away.

The other new invention John lets the audience know about is indoor plumbing, which he says is great for cold days, especially for Uncle Orville, who is their constant houseguest. Uncle Orville then appears sitting in a bathtub as John tells the Guests that Orville has no job. Orville responds by saying “No privacy at all around this place!” which is when Sarah chimes in and calls John to let him know it’s time to go. The scene concludes and John begins to sing “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, as Guests rotate to the third scene.

carousel of progress
Credit: Inside the Magic Kelly C.

Act Three

Moving into the 1940s, also known as the “Fabulous Forties”, the Guests quickly notice it is now Halloween as John proceeds to tell Guests that everything is better than ever. He begins to show off some of the new kitchen technologies, including a refrigerator that “holds more food and ice cubes and an automatic dishwasher”.

John also tells Guests that he is now a part of the “rat race” and they have television, (“when it works”), and that John Cameron Swayze brings them the news every night. We then see the grandmother and grandfather watching wrestling on the television and Jim asking John what he thinks about his Jack-O-Lantern, which he says he used his “beautiful sister Patty” as a model.

We then get back into seeing the technology side of things when John tells everyone that Patty is using an old exercise machine that was “all the rage in the twenties”, but it never worked. However, the audience then sees Patty using the machine while she is talking on the phone to her friend about her date for that night.

In the next portion of the scene, John tells the audience that he is now caught up in the “do-it-yourself” craze in which John proceeds to explain how he and Sarah are redoing their basement and making it into a rumpus room.

We see Sarah working on the new room, as she is putting up wallpaper up using a “paint mixer”, which quickly goes haywire and shoots paint everywhere. John then realizes that it’s time to move on, and tries to get everyone collectively singing to try and cheer Sarah up. “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” begins playing and Guests move into the final scene.

carousel of progress
Credit: Inside the Magic Kelly C.

Act Four

The last act is set during Christmas in the 21st century, where the entire family is gathered together in the living room and kitchen singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” together, rather than just hearing John sing it like we’ve heard the last few scenes.

We see John in the kitchen making Christmas dinner, Sarah on her computer working nearby, Jim, who is now a young adult and no longer a child, is showing his grandmother how to play a virtual reality game, and Trish and her grandfather sit in the living room near the Christmas tree.

Sarah tells John that she has successfully programmed the oven to recognize his voice so he can tell it what to do. John explains to the audience that all of the household items are now voice-activated and proceeds to tell the oven to turn onto a certain degree temperature. After the oven confirms John’s temperature voice command, Trish, the daughter, makes a comment that “it even talks back!”

carousel of progress
Credit: Disney

The family then pokes fun at John’s burnt turkey from last year right before we see the grandmother reaching 550 points in the virtual reality game. She impressed both John and Jim who repeat the score in shock and the oven hears “550” and turns the temperature up. The grandfather then starts talking about how he can’t believe the new gadgets these days and proceeds to explain how before they even had car phones, they didn’t even have a house phone. He is in shock over the technology they have in the 20th century such as laser discs and high-def TV’s and how everything is automated today.

We then shift back to focus on the grandmother who has now reached a score of 975, beating the video game. The oven hears this number and turns the temperature to 975 degrees before it begins to smoke and start giving off warning noises before the oven door pops open and we see a severely burnt and blackened turkey. The family laughs at the fact that “another Christmas turkey has been ruined” and John jokes that maybe moving into the new century, ovens will learn to read minds. Jim responds with, “Don’t worry Dad, someday everything will be so automated that you won’t ever ever have to cook another Christmas turkey again.” The family then proceeds to sing “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” one last time together.

carousel of progress
Credit: Wikipedia

Who Should Visit Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is aimed to please all families at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Walt Disney had the vision to create a place where families could go and spend time together — And that’s exactly what he had in mind when creating all of his attractions as well. No matter your age, this relaxing and entertaining ride in Tomorrowland is a great experience for everyone.

But, for those of you who are avid Walt Disney fans and really want to feel a connection to Walt and his history, as well as the history to the theme park, this is the attraction for you!

carousel of progress
Credit: Disney

When to Visit Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress typically never has a long line and is almost always a walk on. You can visit Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress any time during the theme park operating hours, which vary depending on the day of the week and the time of year. Make sure to check the Disney World Parks Calendar prior to visiting for the most up-to-date hours.

Hidden Disney History Found at Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress goes all the way back to the beginning — With Walt Disney himself creating the concept for this attraction. Because of this, there are so many hidden details and tidbits included in the show.

Check out our video here and the next time you are at the attraction, see how many of these you can spot!

Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour

Do you want to learn more about Walt Disney and how the magic of Disney came to be? Well, you can “step back” to Marceline, Missouri, and learn several different little-known and fun facts about Walt himself as you tour the Magic Kingdom with a V.I.P. tour guide on the Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour.

The Walt Disney World website describes this tour as:

Discover how key events in Walt Disney’s life inspired the creation of Magic Kingdom park on this eye-opening, 3-hour walking tour.

Step back in time for a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into some of the secrets behind the magic. Your knowledgeable guide will share many little-known facts about Walt’s upbringing in Marceline, Missouri as well as provide insider info about the design and operation of several classic attractions, including those inspired by Walt’s participation in the 1964 World’s Fair.

This insider’s look at the history of Magic Kingdom park is perfect for the avid Disney fan and offers a lighter alternative to the more in-depth Keys to the Kingdom tour.

Please note: This tour is not open on Monday and Tuesday.

Know Before You Go

View important information including recommended attire, Guest restrictions and cancellation policies. 

  • This tour is more suited for adults, though Guests as young as 12 years of age may attend. 
  • Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a paying adult (18 years of age or older).
  • Comfortable shoes are recommended, as there will be periods of walking and standing.
  • Tour itinerary, content, duration and availability are subject to change without notice.
  • Please check in at Town Square Theater within Main Street U.S.A. 15 minutes prior to the start of your tour. You will forfeit the entire price of your tour if you no-show or cancel within 2 days of your reservation.
  • Separate admission to Magic Kingdom park is required.
Credit: Disney

Start Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World Today!

If you want to experience Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress at Walt Disney World Resort for yourself, but aren’t sure where to begin planning — Don’t hesitate to reach out to our friends over at Academy Travel.

Founded in 1996, Academy Travel is celebrating over 20 years in business and as the original “Disney Exclusive” travel agency. Academy Travel has earned the highest designation that Disney can bestow upon a travel agency, EarMarked Diamond! Academy Travel is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner and has been designated as a Diamond EarMarked Travel Agency specializing in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, and Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.

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One reason the agency attained the “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” status is that all the frontline leisure travel agents are College of Disney Knowledge graduates. The College of Disney Knowledge is an in-depth comprehensive course that allows agents to develop their expertise regarding the Disney Destinations – knowledge that consumers can take advantage of when planning a Disney vacation.

As long as you book your trip with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner you can rest assured that you will be working with an agency that Disney has vetted and is willing to associate their brand with that agency due to the knowledge and service level you will find at that particular agency. As you can probably imagine, this is a big deal as Disney emphasizes stellar service above all else. Disney has high standards as to with whom they will partner and as a baseline we believe you should only consider booking your Disney vacation with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.

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Credit: ITM

And, no other travel agency in the world books as many Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, a Disney Resort & Spa vacations as does Academy Travel. Yes, you read that right, Academy Travel has more experience booking these trips than anyone else, plus they are also the #1 travel agent booking Universal Studios vacations and so much more!

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your dream Disney vacation today!

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