10 Fascinating Facts about the Hall of Presidents
This week, folks in the United States of America are celebrating Presidents Day, a holiday founded in 1885 in honor of President George Washington’s birthday. In honor of this year’s holiday, we thought we’d take a look at The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, Walt Disney World’s tribute to America’s Presidents, past and future. In honor of Presidents Day, let’s take a look at ten things you may not know about the attraction.
1. A Simple Handshake
As Tim Foster noted in this 2019 article on the Hall of Presidents, the early history of the attraction began with the concepts for Edison Square and Liberty Street in Disneyland, and then progressed during the 1964-65 World’s Fair. For more on that history check out this piece:
The World’s Fair attraction, dubbed One Nation Under God, gained much of its support due to a single handshake. Robert Moses, who organized the fair, visited Disney in California to observe projects they were creating for the event. While visiting, he was allowed to shake hands with the Audio-Animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln. The experience was so engrossing that Moses insisted it be part of the fair.
Before entering the Hall of Presidents, it’s worth admiring its exterior. The building which houses the attraction was designed as a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. If you look around Liberty Square, you might also notice that there are numbers on each of the buildings. These represent the years represented in each building’s architecture. The number on the front of the Hall of President’s is 1787, the year that the Constitution of the United States was signed in Independence Hall.
3. House of Wax
The Audio-Animatronics are arguably the most impressive part of the Hall of Presidents. Their realism of their movement, expressions, and clothing making them seem truly alive. However, the original vision for the attraction was for each President to be depicted…in wax!
4. Take a Seat Mr. President
Imagineers worked hard to make sure that their Animatronic depictions of the Presidents were as physically accurate as possible. Special attention was given to the size and weight of each President. They used this to help determine how the Presidents would be positioned on stage. You’ll notice that James Madison (the fourth President) is seated in the Hall of Presidents. There’s a simple reason why: at 5’4” and a mere 100 lbs, Imagineers worried that if he was standing among the other figures they would all overshadow him.
5. Speaking of Chairs…
The attention to detail didn’t stop with the size and look of the audio animatronics. Special effort was made to ensure that the set props were authentic. George Washington’s chair is an exact replica of the chair that Washington sat in during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
6. How Many Presidents?
The Hall of Presidents is currently closed as Imagineers work to add Joe Biden to the attraction. He’s the 46th President of the United States, so you might understandably think that there will be 46 Audio-Animatronic figures in the attraction. Not so fast! President Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, making him both the 22nd and 24th president. As such, there will only be 45 figures when the new President is added.
7. Every Detail Matters
Disney takes theming seriously. Imagineers plan out virtually every detail of an attraction or land, leaving nothing to chance. The idea is that, even if Guests don’t consciously notice small details, they’ll still absorb them and will be more fully immersed in the experience because of them. Nowhere is this philosophy more exemplified than in the Hall of Presidents. Chances are you won’t notice many of these details on the Audio Animatronics, but it’s good to know they are there. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s figure is adorned with a Phi Beta Kappa pin. Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley are wearing Civil War lapel pins (both Hayes and McKinley were Civil War veterans, while Johnson served as President during the war’s waning months). The figure of George W. Bush sports an exact replica of the 43rd President’s Timex watch.
8. Spaceship Earth
When a President leaves office, they have to find new ways to pass the time. Many have written books or gone on to create or work with charitable organizations. However, Disney Presidents have taken on an even more diverse set of jobs. Nine Animatronics of U.S. Presidents were recycled by Disney and can now be found in Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. The Presidents in question: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Pierce, John Tyler, John Adams, Zachary Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Andrew Jackson, and James Buchanan. Their jobs have changed somewhat. From their position as political leaders, these Presidents are now working as a mandolin player, a scholar, a Turkish scholar, a monk, a centurion, a Roman senator, an Egyptian priest, a printer, and an early printing pioneer respectively.
9. Clinton Speaks
Prior to 1993, the Hall of Presidents did not feature any speaking by the current sitting President. That all changed when President Bill Clinton lent his voice to the attraction. Every President since has added their voice to the Hall.
10. George Washington
Curiously, before the 2009 update under President Barack Obama, President George Washington had no speaking role in the attraction. That changed during the 2009 renovation and redesign, which also saw Morgan Freeman added as the attraction’s narrator. The voice of George Washington was provided by actor David Morse. He was uniquely qualified to provide the voice, as he also portrayed Washington in the HBO miniseries John Adams.