Walt Disney’s first attraction outside of a park was in the United States Pavilion at Brussels’ Expo ’58.
It seems very conceivable he could have visited the 1928 Pacific Southwest Exposition in Long Beach since he had moved to Hollywood five years earlier.
In his Sam Gennawey’s book, Walt and the Promise of Progress City, he mentions that Joseph Fowler, the head of construction for Disneyland, said “Every summer Walt would send me to Europe for ideas. Often he would come along. We’d go to World’s Fairs, Oktoberfests, gardens, amusements parks…”
He received an award from the 1935 Exposition Universelle et Internationale in Brussels.
Walt Disney contributed to four of the dozens of pavilions at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.
This video, from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, highlights the exposition as well as the history of world’s fairs.
1964-1965 New York: Pepsi/UNICEF Pavilion
Disney fans are well familiar with the Pepsi Pavilion, a benefit for UNICEF although they know it as the attraction “it’s a small world” (all lower case, naturally).
After the fair, in 1966, it was relocated to Disneyland and copies exist at Walt Disney World outside Orlando, Disneyland Tokyo, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland Hong Kong.
The Ford Motor Company Pavilion was one of the largest at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. Walt Disney was responsible for helping develop the motorized vehicles that ran through the pavilion. That system was re-used at Disneyland as the People Mover. Dinosaurs from the exhibit are still in view in Disneyland’s Primeval World, an exhibit seen from the Disneyland railway.
General Electric’s Progressland Pavilion featured Disney’s Carousel of Progress which was later moved to Disneyland and later, Walt Disney World. It was most recently updated in 1994 to feature “Christmas in the House of 2000.”
It is often said that EPCOT (now known as “Epcot”) is much like a permanent world’s fair.
Years before Walt Disney was born, he already had a connection to a world’s fair. His father worked as a carpenter at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Walt’s brother and business partner, Roy, was also born that year.
That same year, Walt Disney’s father built the home that Walt Disney himself was born in.
Mickey Mouse was created just five years before the opening of the 1933-1934 Century of Progress Exposition, but already he was being used on a wide variety of items, including this world’s fair pocket knife featuring Mickey Mouse.
It is said that the fair’s Belgium Village inspired Disney when planning Disneyland 20 years later.
Walt Disney received awards for his animation from a film festival held as part of the 1935 Brussels International Exposition. The Disney Family did travel to Europe in 1935, but more research is needed before we can difinitively say he attended the exposition.
The certificate shown awards his films Band Concert and Who Killed Cock Robin and is on exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
It seems likely that Walt Disney visited the California-Pacific International Exposition given San Diego’s proximity to Los Angeles. Any information about this would be appreciated. Contact Urso@ExpoMuseum.com.
Despite the fact that Walt Disney did not attend the exposition himself, the company did contribute a cartoon for Nabisco’s pavilion entitled Mickey’s Surprise Party.
Mickey Mouse was also called into service to help promote the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition. He was in promotional materials distributed by the Standard Oil Company called “Mickey’s and Donald’s race to Treasure Island.”
Disney personally visited the world’s fair. Among the exhibits he saw was the “Miniature Rooms” of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Thanks to this experience, he was inspired to start his own collection of minatures. In 1951, he considered traveling his dioramas on a train under the name “Disneylandia,” but realized it wouldn’t be financially feasable. His interest, though, clearly influenced attractions at Disneyland when it opened in 1955.
The United States Pavilion at Brussels’ Expo ’58 was the largest circular building ever built at was accompanied by two smaller buildings. One of those side buildings featured the Circarama (360º) film “America the Beautiful.” It is also noteworthy for being the first Disney attraction outside a Disney park. Walt Disney himself served as a consultant to the pavilion.
Walt Disney visited the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle for a week and was clearly inspired what he saw. He was quoted as saying that he thought there would be “Space Needles cropping up all over after the success of this one.”
The Walt Disney Company produced a 360º film for Expo ’86’s Telecom Canada entitled Portraits of Canada/Images du Canada. After the world’s fair was held, the film was shown for a time in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.
The Walt Disney Company was a sponsor of the United States Pavilion at Shanghai’s Expo 2010.