We all know that Disney World presents an idealized view of the world.

If you consider the various scenarios for what the future holds, Disney offers Tomorrowland which provides you with sleek transportation and humorous aliens. Compare this to something like the movie 1984 where the government spies on you constantly, or the movie RoboCop, where the future Detroit is a mess.

If you consider the various options for having an adventure, Disney offers Adventureland, which provides you with jolly pirates and singing birds. Compare this to something like a real adventure, say a trip to the desert, which, in reality, makes you face dangerous animals and the possibility of deadly diseases.

If you look at small town America at the turn of the century, Disney offers Main Street USA, the gateway to the seven themed lands of the Magic Kingdom! How does that compare to how a real Main Street may have looked when Walt was a kid?

Walt's Main Street is always picture-perfect.

Walt’s Main Street is always picture-perfect.

Let’s compare Disney’s presentation of Main Street in Disney World to what you might have seen in a real main street at the turn of the century.

Disney’s Main Street

The Main Street that guests visit in the Magic Kingdom has some wonderful qualities. Just a few of them include:

  • Perfect Maintenance: Never will you find peeling paint, broken windows, or squeaky doors. As if by magic, everything works correctly.
  • Dirt-Free: Disney literally power-washes the concrete streets each night. They are clean enough to sit on, and many people do just that several times a day as they watch parades go by.
  • Uncluttered: There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Everything the eye sees was put there by design – from the style of the horse hitching posts to the flowers in the window boxes. It all goes together perfectly.
  • Service Oriented: Whether you need a new shirt, a haircut, or your daily dose of Starbucks Coffee, Walt’s idealized version of Main Street has you covered.

The Real Main Streets

Walt Disney World’s Main Street is wonderful, and it actually has quite a few things in common with actual small town Main Streets of the early 1900s, but, it has some differences too.

Need a hair cut?  No problem when you are on Main Street!

Need a hair cut? No problem when you are on Main Street!

Similarities

  • Style: The Victorian look with plenty of gingerbread trim would have existed on actual main streets just as it does in the Magic Kingdom. The real versions might not have been quite as ornate, but they would have been there.
  • Commerce: There would be real stores on the Main Streets of the 1910s. They wouldn’t have sold Mike Wazowski t-shirts, but you would be able to purchase candy, clothing, or a haircut just like you can in Disney World.
  • People: The Main Streets of days gone by were places bustling with people, just as Walt’s Main Street is a hub (no pun intended) of activity.

Differences

  • Maintenance: Many of us take for granted the modern building materials all around us: paint that maintains its color and doesn’t peel (at least for a long time), or wood that is pressure-treated and doesn’t warp or split (at least for a long time). Back in the early 1900s, materials didn’t hold up well, and that would have been evident on a real Main Street.
  • Clutter: There weren’t many zoning regulations back in the old days. If you wanted to put up a giant Coca-Cola billboard and paint your store an odd blue color, you could do so. Real Main Streets would not have been nearly as clutter-free, coordinated, and perfectly designed as the Disney Main Street we enjoy today.
  • Dirt: This may be one of the biggest differences between real Main Streets and Disney’s Main Street. Many streets were not paved as they are at Disney World. They were often made of dirt. The streets of old were certainly not power washed. Horses would leave their calling cards everywhere and there wouldn’t by any friendly Disney Cast members to sweep it all up. There would also be smoke in the winter-time from homes or businesses burning coal or wood for heat. Dirt would literally fill the streets and air, and would cover the buildings and people.

The look of a real Main Street in the USA at the turn of the century.

Hurray For Disney’s Main Street!

Personally, I am glad that the Main Street I so enjoy at Disney World took its inspiration from the turn of the century America, but to that it adds in modern conveniences like Disney characters, orderliness, and cleanliness. It makes for a Main Street that is fun to visit, and probably one that is different, and dare I say better, than the original versions.

Which word best describes Disney’s Main Street USA: Idealized or Fake?