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Fridays with Jim Korkis: America on Parade

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

In 1976, the country gathered to celebrate its Bicentennial, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Development for the Disney theme parks celebration began in 1972 under the guidance of entertainment executive Bob Jani.

As part of that celebration there was one of the most spectacular parades ever at Walt Disney World: America on Parade. The Walt Disney World version of the patriotic parade debuted on June 6th, 1975, a week before its Disneyland counterpart. It was seen by an estimated twenty-five million people at the parks before its final performance in September 1976.

(c) Disney

Disney’s America on Parade concentrated on the ideals, principles and important figures that shaped the nation. It showcased memorable moments like the first Thanksgiving, significant American innovations like the invention of the car and the first manned flight, popular pastimes like baseball, and more.

A hundred and fifty eight-foot tall human figures were built to represent the “people of America.”. The fifty parade units were designed to look like huge toys, and the figures to be outsized dolls with the theme being seeing America through the eyes of a child.

Proclaimed as a “new achievement in Disney pageantry,” this colorful tribute to the history and legacy of the United States was one of the most celebrated presentations in Disney theme park history. Intended to convey the festive feel of the Fourth of July, it was a spectacular homage to America’s history, people, and traditions characterized by Disney as a “birthday party for the country.”

“In the Spirit of ‘76, Walt Disney Productions proudly presents America on Parade – a salute to America’s 200th birthday! Two centuries filled with challenges, achievements, and world contributions. Let’s step back into history and take a look at the first 200 years with this musical celebration.”

America on Parade was captured as a souvenir film sold through Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The “Walt Disney’s America on Parade” television special was aired in 1976, hosted by Red Skelton, and featuring a number of performances by the Kids of the Kingdom.

America on Parade was held once a day during winter months and twice a day during the summer season, with the night version concluding with the fireworks display. The parade was three-quarters of a mile long, which meant as the souvenir program put it, “a continuously moving ‘stage’ that captures the spirit of Americana in a grand display of colorful people and settings.”

Disney wanted a special musical instrument to provide a unique and memorable soundtrack for the parade and instituted a nationwide search for it. It turned out to be an 1890 band organ belonging to Paul Eakin and named “Sadie Mae of St. Louis.”

Jani had wanted to try to mix old-world sounds with new, and came up with the idea of combining an antique band organ with synthesizer to achieve this result.  There was only one man in the world, in Belgium, who could still make punch cards for 1890 band organ and its over 200 different pipes.

The parade was hugely popular and a flood of related merchandise was released including collectable coins, mugs, picture and history books, a series of plates, View-Master reels, puzzles, watches, coloring and sticker books, Colorforms play sets, a figural music box, a porcelain sculpture and a lunch box-and-thermos kit. The full score was available in its entirety at both parks on a distinctive limited edition picture disc, A Musical Souvenir of America on Parade.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Off to Never Land: 70 Years of Disney’s Peter Pan and Final Secret Stories of Walt Disney World!

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