From Disaster to Icon: Main Street Electrical Parade Turns 50
As a child in the early 90s I basked in the colorful glow of the Main Street Electrical Parade as it whirled through Disneyland during the handful of visits we made before it “glowed away forever.” I was so enchanted and even bought the VHS of the parade and discarded lightbulb so a piece of it could live with me forever. Needless to say I have been thrilled each and every time the parade has been pulled out of mothballs and returned to Disneyland, and it has once again returned to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Disney has really pulled out all of the stops for the parade, with special food and merchandise, and even a dining package that includes lunch at Plaza Inn, and reserved seating for the parade. We opted for the dining package and enjoyed our fried chicken lunch, followed by an afternoon riding attractions and, as you can see, lots of tasty themed treats before sitting down in front of the Main Street Train Station to enjoy the thousands of twinkling lights that make up the Main Street Electrical Parade.
It’s incredible that one parade has lasted this long, but just how did this wild, psychedelic parade with its iconic, though manic, tune come to be? It really stems from one thing…jealousy. Let’s rewind to the 1971. Walt Disney World had just opened, and everyone was focused on it, leaving Anaheim’s Disneyland feeling a little lackluster and in need of something new and one that would keep Guests in the park after dark. Inspired by Disney World’s Electrical Water Pageant, the team at Disneyland decided to take electrified entertainment to Main Street.
The first of many hurdles was the power needed for the lights. Gas generators, extension cords, and car batteries weren’t going to work. “We even considered electrifying the tracks along Main Street,” Ronald Miziker, director of show development at the time, later admitted in an interview. Nickel-cadmium batteries were the solution, even though they needed to be recharged before the parade could run again.
While tiny Christmas lights are widely available today, they were not in the early 70s. At that time, larger, C9 style bulbs were the norm for light decoration, but the Disney team learned about small, Italian made lightbulbs being used in Chicago on city trees along Michigan Avenue. The Chicago-based company agreed to supply the lights and build the floats, but two months before the parade was set to debut, the Disney team arrived for a check-in to find that only half of the floats were built. Fourteen moving vans transported the half-built parade to Anaheim and under a massive tent, Cast Members got to work welding and hand tinting the 500,000 lightbulbs.
In the meantime, music needed to be selected. Jack Wagner, Disneyland’s former official park announcer, is credited with uncovering and sharing with team working on the parade. The now iconic tune, properly known as “Baroque Hoedown” by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, off of their 1967 album Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out. The pair were pioneers in the world of electronic music, and among the first to work with the Moog synthesizer. But Perrey had no idea their song was licensed to Disney. In fact it wasn’t until he visited the park in 1980 and heard it during the parade did he know of its beloved status.
With less than a week before opening, Disney was two-thirds of the way done with the floats, and even secretaries were in the mix helping at the 11th hour to install lightbulbs. Once the floats were completed, the trials were far from over. Rehearsal didn’t go smoothly either, sparks emitted from the electrified costumes and a float even ran into one of the Main Street buildings. But once the hiccups were over, the Main Street Electrical Parade glided and glowed into the hearts of millions beginning June 17, 1972.
After a brief hiatus in 1975 and 1976, when it was replaced by the Bicentennial themed America On Parade, it returned. A few years later in 1979 it was added to, with the 108 foot long “To Honor America” float, continuing the celebration of America’s Bicentennial.
The Main Street Electrical Parade went away “forever” in 1996 (replaced by the infamously disastrous Light Magic parade), but when Disney California Adventure opened to less than favorable reviews, the Company pulled the Main Street Electrical Parade out of retirement to lure Guests to California Adventure in 2001. It also spent time over in Walt Disney World, before returning again to Disneyland in 2017 for a limited run. But as 2022 marks the parade’s 50th anniversary, it has been brought out once again, and even received a revamp. The 1979 “To Honor America” segment has been reconfigured to feature a Mary Blair inspired collection of characters from various Disney animated films, including Aladdin and Jasmine, Anna and Elsa, Raya, Princess Tiana, and even Mirabel from Encanto, among others.
I think what I love so much about the Main Street Electrical Parade is that it is such a product of its time. With the giant Elliot from Pete’s Dragon, the psychedelic vibes from the turtles and snails, not to mention the larger than life Alice in Wonderland segment. Some portions have come and gone, such as the once iconic Blue Fairy (rumors are she was damaged during the parade’s stint in Florida) also gone is the Dumbo Circus portion and Bedknobs and Broomsticks elements. But overall it still maintains its colorful electric heart.
The Disneyland Resort has not announced when the Main Street Electrical Parade will be leaving, but I’m going to bet that it lasts through summer, and I intend to see it a few more times!
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Eades, Mark. “Co-composter of Disney’s Electrical Parade music Dies.” The Orange County Register, 4 November 2016. Accessed 5 May 2022.
MacDonald, Brady. “The colorful history of the Disneyland Electrical Parade, which returns in January.” The Seattle Times, 21 December 2016. Accessed 5 May 2022.
Main Street Electrical Parade. D23. Accessed 5 May 2022.
Pimentel, Joseph. “Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Parade returns Thursday with iconic tune.” The Orange County Register, 19 January 2017. Accessed 5 May 2022.
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3 comments on “From Disaster to Icon: Main Street Electrical Parade Turns 50”
I could hear the music as I scrolled thru! Thanks for helping me enjoy from afar and learning some great history!
Thanks for the great pictures and history lesson! The word “magic” gets thrown around like rice at a wedding, but the MSEP truly deserves that description. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it a few times. My favorites have always been the little turtles and similar critters down at eye level.
I remember helping my best high school friend put up his family’s Christmas tree the year after his father died and nobody else felt up to doing it. They still had the old-fashioned lights from before the minis became common in the Seventies, and we had to blow-dry the tree branches to keep the lights from sparking like a toaster dropped in a bathtub.
What a stellar event! Just the vibrant dose of take-your-mind-off-your-troubles fun and happiness we all need (big time!) these days.
As usual, I am thoroughly smitten with your outfit. What a cute Disney tee!
Autumn Zenith 🧡 Witchcrafted Life