On September 22, 1962, Walt Disney (1901-1966) and his family visit the Seattle World's Fair. The creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland likes what he sees, but does voice one complaint.
That Disney Touch
Disney flew up from Los Angeles on September 21 aboard United Airlines. Accompanying the film producer/director was his wife, Lillian (1925-1966), his daughter Sharon Disney Brown (1936-1993), and his son-in-law, Robert Brown (d. 1967). Disney had already been in discussion with planners for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, for which he would later design four shows. His visit to the Seattle World's Fair was strictly for pleasure.
Disney did not participate in the planning of Seattle World's Fair, although certain elements of it did have a Disney touch. George Whitney (1922-2002), director of Century 21's Concessions and Amusements Division, was a member of Disneyland's original design team and spent two year as the theme park's director of rides and amusements. Century 21's Operations and Services Division Director Frederick Schumacher was also one of Disneyland's planners.
A Fair, Not a Theme Park
Disney was eager to see the fair, and made a short visit on Friday night soon after his plane landed. When he visited on Saturday and Sunday, huge crowds followed him everywhere. When he wasn't signing autographs, he was often being interviewed by newspaper and television reporters.
Disney was quick to point out that drawing a comparison between the fair and his Disneyland theme park was difficult. "This fair is not Disneyland and Disneyland is not a fair. Disneyland is a place of fantasy and adventure. It is built around a carousel. The fair is built around the Science Pavilion, the Coliseum, and the Space Needle" (The Seattle Times, September 23, 1962). He seemed impressed with the Space Needle, predicting that there would be "Space Needles cropping up all over after the success of this one."
Disney's Saturday visit coincided with the fair's 8,000,000th visitor, which impressed him. Disney noted that since Disneyland opened in 1955, the largest annual attendance was only 5,000,000 visitors, but that this year his theme park would probably break that record thanks to people "making the grand circuit" by visiting both Seattle and Los Angeles in the same trip.
Not Enough Space
Although Disney's comments on the fair were generally positive he did have one complaint -- it wasn't large enough. Planners had designed the fair as what they called a "jewel box" -- small in size, but high in quality. Built on 74 acres, Seattle's World's Fair was much smaller than previous world's fairs -- a concept that the promoters highlighted as a positive when selling the fair to exhibitors.
But Disney didn't like it. "I think that 74 acres is too skimpy. You lack settings for these astounding buildings" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 23, 1962). He believed that if the ground were larger, various areas could be separated by vistas. "You don’t load up a showcase with everything. To get the proper effect, you put in just a few things" (The Seattle Times, September 23, 1962.
Walt Disney wasn't the only VIP to visit the fair that weekend. At the NASA pavilion, astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) helped dedicate a new exhibit on the X-15 rocket plane. Armstrong had just been selected by NASA to train for the Gemini and Apollo missions, and would later become the first man to walk on the moon.
There is no record that Disney attended this dedication, but given his keen interest in space travel it would be surprising had he not.