Disney is marking the 50th anniversary of the It’s a Small World ride at its parks around the globe today, but the attraction didn’t originally debut at any of them.

Developed by Disney “imagineers,” It’s a Small World first opened at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It was “enjoyed by an estimated 10 million children” there in 1964 and 1965 before anyone ever rode it at Disneyland starting in 1966, according to a Times article on the ride’s debut in Anaheim.

But the Disneyland riders did experience something new: The attraction was expanded by one-third once it made the cross-country move. 

The ceremony marking the ride’s 1966 Disneyland opening sounds like a splashy affair. There were fireworks, 10,000 balloons and a flock of white doves.

Oh, and it was literally splashy: “Water from major oceans and seas around the world was flown to Disneyland, and [Walt] Disney and children from 16 Southern California ethnic groups poured it into Seven SeaWays,” The Times reported.

It’s a Small World and the teacup ride are my two earliest memories of Disneyland, a place I first visited as a 3-year-old. For Throwback Thursday, we encourage you to send your It’s a Small World memories and photos by messaging us here or tweeting them to @latimespast.

– Laura E. Davis

(Photo: Walt Disney pours water from canteen into a channel through It’s a Small World on May 30, 1966. Credit: Los Angeles Times/UCLA Library)


A 1965 Ford Mustang on display in the National Museum of American History in celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2014. A diorama of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, photo blowup of the fairgrounds, image of the Unisphere, commemorative fair license plate, and striped pavement complete the display. Photo by Hugh Talman.

Mustang memories and a fair to remember


“What was once an ash heap in Corona, Queens, became the site of the 1939 World’s Fair. Its avenues, in turn, provided the layout for the 1964 World’s Fair. …A few structures from the fair stand in good condition; others have fallen into disrepair; and still others have been reinvented.

Shea Stadium. Opened five days before the World’s Fair in 1964, it became the home of the New York Mets and the New York Jets. On Aug. 15, 1965, the Beatles played a 30-minute set before 55,000 screaming fans. The stadium was torn down in 2009 and turned into a parking lot; Citi Field, the new home of the Mets, was built next door.

Singer Bowl. An open-air stadium seating 18,000, it was built in 1964 by the Singer Sewing Company. In 1973, it was renamed the Louis Armstrong Memorial Stadium. (Armstrong, in fact, lived only blocks away until his death in 1971.) It was the centerpiece of the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center when it opened in 1978, and it remained so until 1997, when Arthur Ashe Stadium was built.

Port Authority Heliport. An actual heliport topped the structure; the Beatles landed there on their way to their 1965 concert at Shea. The restaurant at the top, Terrace on the Park, is still open as a catering hall, with views that are said to be more spectacular than the food. When Madonna first came to New York, she lived in Corona and had a job running the elevators there.

New York State Pavilion. Consisting of an oval pavilion, a theater and three spaceship-like towers, the complex was designed by Philip Johnson. Murals that had decorated the outside of the pavilion, including Andy Warhol’s “Thirteen Most Wanted Men,” were painted over before the fair opened.

New York City Pavilion and Ice Theater. Originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair and later used as the home of the United Nations General Assembly, the 1964 pavilion featured a ride around a panoramic model of the city, as well as an ice skating show. It became a museum in 1972, and until 2008 the city operated an ice skating rink in the south end. The museum still houses the panorama.

Hall of Science. The Hall of Science, built for the fair, reopened as a science museum in 1966 and has since undergone several renovations. Nearby, in Space Park, were spacecraft and rockets, donated by NASA and the Defense Department. The Atlas and Titan II rockets remain outside; the Mercury I capsule is in the museum.

Chrysler Pavilion. The Queens Zoo opened on this site in 1968. The zoo’s aviary is the former New York World’s Fair Pavilion (later the Winston Churchill Pavilion), a geodesic dome designed for the fair by R. Buckminster Fuller.”

Then & Now The Fair to End All Fairs

More here, here, and here.


“Walt’s participation in the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was a turning point for the Disney Company. The fair was a chance to challenge the Imagineers. Walt wanted to prove to the world that his crew was better than any other group of designers. He had the chance to use other corporations’ money to conduct research and development while benefiting Disneyland…When the fair closed, three of the four exhibits were disassembled, shipped back to Disneyland, and reassembled.” – Sam Gennawey, Walt and the Promise of Progress City