Yester World

The Hall of Presidents
Welcomes a New President
Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Announcing the new Audio-Animatronic President

We’ve updated The Hall of Presidents with a new president—George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. You were expecting someone else? Sorry. This is Yester World, not Today World.

So step into the lobby and wait for the show to begin. It’s actually a good thing if the performance doesn’t begin right away. There are plenty of interesting artifacts to see in display cases.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Festive red, white, and blue decorations welcoming Number 43

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or independent. The speech by George W. Bush will be devoid of controversial issues.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Plenty of seats in the 700-seat theater

Sit close enough to admire the Disney Audio-Animatronics figures sculpted by Disney Legend Blaine Gibson—even if that means you’ll be too close to fully take in the multi-screen projections that are also part of the show. Gibson was involved in sculpting all 42 presidents for this show. He even came out of retirement to sculpt Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and now, George W. Bush.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo © Disney

President George W. Bush is ready to speak.

The narrator calls the name of each president. Finally, the narrator says, “And the current President of the United States, George W. Bush.”

President Bush speaks:

“My Fellow Americans, when we look back on the history of this country, we see a record of almost unbelievable energy, sacrifice, hard work—of impossible dreams that our ancestors dreamed and made real. We see injustice, too, that weighs on our hearts even today. But for every injustice there has always been a voice crying out to right it. And America has always listened to those voices.

“We are listening today. And perhaps it falls to us, to this first generation of 21st century Americans, to say, once and for all, that no child, no race, no creed, no ethnic community will ever again be left out of the American dream. Through education, through the opportunity to work and to enjoy the fruits of that work, we can open every closed door, expand the horizons of all Americans.

“Again and again we return to the same simple principles: freedom, equality. The freedom to create, to prosper, to dream. Equality before the law, in the workplace, and a chance for a better life. And each time, in the process, America grows stronger. The beacon of democracy grows brighter. The world looks with new astonishment at what free people can do. We the people are just getting started.”

Official White House photo of George W. Bush, 2003, by Eric Draper

Photo by Eric Draper, White House photographer, 2003

Official White House photo of George W. Bush

If you think the George Bush in the Hall of Presidents looks too young, just remember that he looked a lot younger at the beginning of his administration than eight years later.

The Hall of Presidents was one of the original attractions at the Magic Kingdom when the park opened October 1, 1971. Richard Nixon, the 37th president, was in the White House. The show had 36 Audio-Animatronic presidents, because Grover Cleveland held the office as the 22nd and 24th President (and it would have been silly to have two Grover Clevelands).

Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2015

Hall of Presidents at Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom Park

Although the Magic Kingdom attraction goes back to 1971, the idea is much older. Walt Disney planned to add a Revolutionary War era-themed land called Liberty Street to Disneyland. The 1958 Disneyland souvenir map provided a glimpse at what was planned. After Liberty Street failed to achieve its announced 1959 opening, it remained on park maps as a “future development” for several years.

excerpt from 1962 Disneyland souvenir map, copyright Disney

Excerpt from 1962 Disneyland souvenir map: © Disney

Look for “Hall of Presidents” at Liberty Street

In “The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney,” an article in the August 1963 issue of National Geographic, writer Robert de Roos described how Abraham Lincoln would eventually be part of an attraction called One Nation Under God:

I went out into the street again with Walt [Disney] and Wathel Rogers, who supervised the Enchanted Tiki Room. We entered another building and I got a shock; I almost bumped smack into Abraham Lincoln!

The illusion was alarming. The tall, lonely man sits in a chair much as in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C. But this is no cold stone figure; this Lincoln is man-size—and so realistic it seems made of flesh and blood.

“Lincoln is part of a Disneyland project called ‘One Nation Under God’” Wathel Rogers explained. “It will start with a Circarama presentation of great moments in constitutional crises.

“Circarama is a special motion-picture technique Walt developed for Disneyland and the Brussels World’s Fair. The Bell Telephone Circarama now at Disneyland tells the story of the great sights of America. It has a 360-degree screen. The audience is surrounded by the continuous action, as if they were moving with the camera and able to see in all directions.

“The Circarama for the ‘One Nation Under God’ showing will have a 200-degree screen. After the Circarama showing, a curtain will close, then open again to reveal the Hall of Presidents. The visitor will see all the Chief Executives modeled life-size. He’ll think it’s a waxworks—until Lincoln stands up and begins to talk.”

There was never a Liberty Street or One Nation Under God at Disneyland. But Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln—with only the 16th president—opened at the New York World’s Fair in April 1964 and at Disneyland in July 1966.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Closed for eight months prior to reopening in July 2009

Since the 1971 opening of the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square (not Liberty Street), eight presidents have joined the roll-call: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. For the first four, the changes were fairly minor. There was plenty of room on the stage for more presidents.

The original 1971 presentation dramatically touched on key moments in American history. The screens would rise. The narrator would call each president’s name, and the Audio-Animatronic figure would nod or gesture in some way.

Only Abraham Lincoln would speak. That changed when Bill Clinton became President in 1993. Clinton’s Audio-Animatronic doppelgänger did not simply nod; he gave a speech (recorded by the real Bill Clinton).

Also, the focus of the attraction changed—not because of Clinton, but because of Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University. In 1991, Foner contacted Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner with concerns about how Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln failed to deal with slavery and the issue of race. Eisner listened. He invited Foner to rework The Hall of Presidents. Although the original 1971 script included the issue of slavery, the new script, narrated by poet Maya Angelou, focused more attention on slavery, injustice, and “that ‘We the People’ must mean all the people.”

In January 2001, George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president. By giving Bill Clinton a speaking part eight years earlier, Disney could no longer just update The Hall of Presidents with a nodding figure and another name on the roll-call. On July 4, 2001, Disney announced that The Hall of Presidents would close in late summer and re-open in late fall with a likeness of George W. Bush, delivering a speech recorded by his real-life counterpart.

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Explaining to guests why the attraction was closed

On November 4, 2008, America elected Barack Obama as the 44th President. A few days earlier, The Hall of Presidents closed for an extensive refurbishment.

Audio-Animatronics figure of President Barack Obama

Photo, 2009 © Disney

Imagineer John Cutry programming Barack Obama

Officially, the attraction reopened July 4, 2009, with Audio-Animatronic President Obama speaking in place of his predecessor.

Once again, there was a short, well-written speech, recorded by the President himself. And, once again, it was completely nonpartisan, beginning with its opening sentence: “The American dream is as old as our founding, but as timeless as our hopes.”

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2016

A stage full of Presidents

Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2016

Barack Obama at center stage

President Barack Obama, Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Gene Duncan, 2009 © Disney

Audio-Animatronic President Barack Obama speaking to Magic Kingdom guests

On January 17, 2017, two days before the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, The Hall of Presidents closed to update the show with the new President.

This time, the refurbishment took particularly long. Summer began and ended with the attraction still closed and without an announced opening date. It seemed that it might never reopen. Fall had almost come to an end when—finally—on December 19, 2017, the attraction officially opened, following a soft opening the previous day.

Programming President Donald Trump for the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Kent Phillips, 2017 © Disney

Disney Imagineer programming Donald Trump

Programming President Donald Trump for the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2018

President Donald Trump in the spotlight

In the familiar tradition of The Hall of Presidents, the lifelike Disney version of President Trump delivered an uplifting, non-political speech recorded by his real-life counterpart. The opening sentence was, “From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people.” Who could argue against that?

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden became the 46th President. Once again, the attraction closed for an update. It reopened August 3, 2021—but without the new President giving an inspiring though apolitical speech. Instead, there’s just his introduction and the President’s oath of office.

Although The Hall of Presidents focuses extra attention on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the President who is currently in office, the attraction celebrates the institution of the American Presidency in an optimistic way that suggests things will keep getting better.

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Updated March 17, 2023