Story of the Week

Posted: 04.26.2010
Ford’s “Magic Skyway”– The World’s Fair 1964
By: Margery Krevsky
The 1964 New York World’s Fair featured Ford’s “Magic Skyway” as one of its most popular and best attractions! It opened on April 22, 1964, and I was fortunate enough to have experienced it in person. During that summer I remember taking a train with my family from Philadelphia, and getting all dressed up, for a day at the fair. My Dad, being a car guy, targeted the Ford exhibit and my Mother wanting to provide us with an unforgettable culinary experience arranged for an exotic dinner at the African Pavilion. As one of the most popular exhibits Ford’s “Magic Skyway” had extremely long lines, but it was a must see . Once we were inside the Pavilion (The Ford Rotunda Building) , even in the queue, we had plenty to see and the enchantment began. This was many years ago, but I still remember the excitement of the modern building, and the anticipation of riding in a car through the display. It was my first experience with entertainment architecture and a Ford and Disney experience. Before you reached “the ride” Ford kept you enrapt with creative displays of international villages, always with a few cars. The villages were fascinating with great details. We thought it couldn’t get any better.

The Ford Rotunda was a building several blocks long. The curved pylons looked like the rib bones of huge prehistoric animals like the ones to be viewed in the exhibit. There were two tunnels protruding from the building, each one contained a late – model Ford, on its’ way to a trip through time. The time travel trip took you on a journey to view dinosaurs, cave men, the creation of fire and the wheel.

“The ride” through the exhibit was thrilling. “The ride” was commissioned by Ford, but developed by the Walt Disney Studio. Ford’s main directive to Disney was that the ride vehicle be a new Ford car. An actual car. This did puzzle Imagineers on how they would move the vehicles. The outcome: Riders would travel in a new Ford convertible, which was attached to a moving rail. The idea was ingenious and would be used again on Disneyland’s PeopleMover and the Detroit PeopleMover.

Visitors riding in Ford convertibles went on a Magic Skyway back in time to the age of the dinosaurs.

My brother grabbed the driver’s seat position, and my folks rode in style in the back seat. We moved along waiting to experience something new and great. We were first taken through plastic tunnels around the outside of the rotunda for a sweeping view of the grounds, then onto the exhibit building and the fantasy land within. You toured the earth’s past from the dawn of time, through the age of the dinosaurs to the world of the caveman. Monster dinosaurs engaged in combat while primitive creatures soared over head. The highlight was the creation of fire and the wheel; and how men built carts to move around.

Walt Disney’s audio-animatronic cavemen entertained visitors along Ford’s “Magic Skyway”. The entire ride had to be scrapped at the end of the fair, but led to many ideas in future rides and showcases, such as PeopleMover, Universe of Energy, Spaceship Earth, and World of Motion, to name a few.

The future came fast as our car glided on a super skyway over the City of Tomorrow with its towering metal spires and glittering glass of bubble-shaped buildings. After the ride ended you toured the Hall of Science which demonstrated laser lights, the sound of stars picked up by a radio telescope, and displays of new material to be used in future Ford automobiles. Finally, there was an exhibit of Ford –built cars of all kinds –antique, new, experimental and foreign made – a paradise for automobile enthusiasts. My Dad was in Heaven and gave us his own private tour.

The World’s Fair was the opening event for the new Mustang. The prime car to take on “the ride” was this new and coveted machine. The Mustang has been in continuous production ever since this date and dramatically exceeded its’ projected selling numbers in the first month of its’ debut. IT was predominately displayed for all to see and admire on the walkway into the Ford Rotunda.

A new Ford Mustang convertible, as it premiered at the 1964 New York World’ Fair

T o give you more stuff on the building -The famous Ford Rotunda, was a building several blocks long featuring a number of exhibits all designed by Walt Disney. The building, a glass rotunda, with 65 towering pylons at one end and a large exhibition hall at the other required enough steel to erect a skyscraper 125 feet square and 22 stories high.

After this amazing ride we headed for the African Pavilion and the experiences of new spices, foods and exotically robed hosts. Unforgettable day.

Margery Krevsky is the author of, Sirens of Chrome: the enduring allure of auto show models published by Momentum publishing. Available at Amazon.com and Sirensofchrome.com.

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