As we have now welcomed the 46th President of the United States into a fan favorite attraction located inside Liberty Square, join me as I take you through the great beginnings and history of The Hall of Presidents attraction at Magic Kingdom.
One Nation Under God
Before we begin with the history of how The Hall of Presidents came to be, we need to start at the beginning of how this attraction was very close to Walt’s heart. He had a deep admiration for American patriotism and its history.
Walt Disney originally wanted to produce an attraction that would be similar to The Hall of Presidents that we know today.
His dream, “One Nation Under God,” was to be located in Disneyland. He proposed not just a section on Main Street, but rather an extension of Disneyland that would be called Liberty Street at Edison Square.
His plan was to have wax figures of all the United States Presidents. However, he decided to make them animated figures. The only problem was that at the time of Walt’s idea, this state of the art technology did not exist fully.
With the genius Imagineers working at WED Enterprises, they accomplished the first Audio-Animatronic figure in human form, President Abraham Lincoln.
Why Lincoln and not another President? Because President Lincoln was one of Walt’s personal heroes.
Blaine Gibson, who sculpted the original bust of Abraham Lincoln in 1964, directed the sculpture of every U.S. President, up to George W. Bush in 2001 for The Hall of Presidents show.
Fun fact: Blaine created a life-size bronze of Walt and Mickey Mouse standing hand-in-hand. The statue, called “Partners,” is located at the Central Hub in Disneyland and at Disney parks around the world. Blaine subsequently created a life-size bronze of Roy O. Disney—Company co-founder and brother of Walt—for display in Disney theme parks.
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair
Walt was able to showcase his state of the art technology animatronic within the Illinois Pavilion at the World’s Fair in the show, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
The show at the World’s Fair premiered on April 22, 1964.
The overall theme of the show was the inspiration, justice, and meaning of the United States Constitution.
Upon entry there was a pre-show which began with a short film depicting paintings of Illinois. The soundtrack featured the Illinois state song.
As guests entered the main theatre and the show began, curtains opened to reveal an Abraham Lincoln animatronic figure sitting in a chair on the stage.
What captivated the audience was when he stood and recited a combination of several of his speeches lasting 5 minutes and 15 seconds.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in Disneyland
Since 1965, this attraction and show have endured many different changes both in its name and presentation.
The original version from 1965-1972 was the exact version that of the World’s Fair presentation.
However, the previous hydraulic-based audio-animatronic figure was replaced by an electronic audio-animatronic figure.
Currently, The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln opened on December 18, 2009 and continues to this day.
The Hall of Presidents
Although Walt’s “One Nation Under God,” never came to fruition, after his death, Imagineers incorporated his old designs and concepts for Liberty Street at Edison Square. They would finally be able to create his concept.
However, his vision would come into fruition located inside Liberty Square at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
The Hall of Presidents opened its doors at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971.
The Hall of Presidents attraction is a multi-media presentation stage show that features all elected officials who have served as President of the United States.
The attraction begins with a short film depicting different landmark historical periods and events depicting several past presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who played a significant role in America’s history.
Following the short film, the attraction continues with a stage presentation of each of the presidents who appear life-like to the audience. However, they are audio-animatronics and feature speeches by Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and the current President of the United States.
The final speech, just like in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, is followed with the famous “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” song.
Details in The Hall of Presidents
Imagineers pay particular attention to detail and this can be seen throughout the attraction.
Antique furniture was studied (George Washington’s chair was an exact reproduction of the one our founding father sat in during the 1787 Constitutional Convention!), and shoes, watches and proper eyeglasses were specially made. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was given a Phi Beta Kappa key to wear on his jacket, and Presidents Andrew Johnson, Hayes and McKinley even sported lapel pins from the Civil War era. When The Hall of Presidents welcomed President George W. Bush in 2001, Imagineers duplicated his inscribed Timex Indiglo watch — to a T. Although most of these details have gone unnoticed by guests, they have profoundly contributed to the presentation’s integrity. -D23
As for the presidents, Imagineers made sure that the proper height and weight was determined for each president as they would be displayed on stage together.
Therefore, taller presidents are standing, whereas shorter presidents such as James Madison are sitting. Who would have thought, right?
Original Version of Hall of Presidents
The original Hall of Presidents show ran from 1971-1993. It portrayed a mocked version of the Philadelphia Convention where George Washington and Benjamin Franklin made speeches during the Convention.
The film continues to the time of Abraham Lincoln, which is very similar to the segment in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland. It then turns toward the future proclaiming that the leaders of tomorrow are committed to upholding the Constitution of the United States.
As the screen lifts, the United States Presidents are featured center stage and each president is called in chronological order.
Abraham Lincoln then stands and takes center stage and once again his speech is very similar to that of Great Moments of Mr. Lincoln.
Introducing Audio of Current President
Although the original show remained unchanged until October 1993, the presidents that took office were added to the show.
However, in 1993, after Bill Clinton had been elected to office, Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University approached CEO Michael Eisner on changes that could be adapted to the show.
Thus, the idea for the first time in the show’s history, the current president would have a speaking role.
Foner’s role in the show’s revision was vital as he completely rewrote and changed the script focusing more on slavery, ethical and civil related issues. Additionally, he rewrote Lincoln’s speech.
In September 1993, after the White House staff reviewed a speech written by Imagineers and lyricist Tim Rice, President Bill Clinton became the first president to provide his voice to recite the oath of office of the president of the United States speech for his audio-animatronic figure.
As the nation’s 42nd president stood before a microphone and video cameras — set up to film his gestures and facial nuances for Audio-Animatronics® programming — he remarked to an assistant, “Have you seen [The Hall of Presidents]? This is a great show!” President Clinton continued into the microphone, “I feel like I should sing a Disney song. Heigh ho, heigh ho…!” -D23
Every president since then has followed the same as they’ve taken office as President.
The addition of Clinton was just one aspect that changed in the refurbishment of the show. The film was to give greater emphasis on the issues of slavery. Lincoln delivered a new speech and Maya Angelou, who was present at President Clinton’s inauguration, provided the new narration for the show.
In 2001 J.D. Hall became the narrator when President George W. Bush joined the show.
When President Barack Obama became President, the show underwent a significant refurbishment. Obama’s bust was sculpted by Valerie Edwards.
The film portion, now narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, holds a fresh and intense focus on the relationship between our nation’s presidents and the American people. New paintings, photographs and video clips are displayed alongside brilliantly restored original artwork.
On December 19, 2017, the show reopened with the addition of President Donald Trump. Joy Vandervort-Cobb was the show’s new narrator.
Addition of President Joe Biden
On July 19, 2021, Disney announced that President Joe Biden will be added to the Hall of Presidents for an expected August 2021 reopening.
Without a formal announcement, The Hall of Presidents reopened on August 3, 2021.
Continuous shows are operating from 10:00 am-7:00 pm.
Donald Trump, Biden’s predecessor has been moved to the back row while standing next to President Andrew Jackson.
Walt Disney himself would have undoubtedly been the first to show his support of this favorite and historical attraction in Liberty Square.