Home » The 3 Disney Attractions That Could Have CHANGED THE WORLD

The 3 Disney Attractions That Could Have CHANGED THE WORLD

Walt Disney didn’t build his theme park empire purely to entertain. He wanted to teach visitors about the world they lived in. More importantly, he wanted to actually CHANGE that world.

In his later years, Walt was concerned about the legacy that he would leave behind. He didn’t want to be known simply as a producer of frivolous entertainment. He wanted to improve people’s lives by reinventing the cities that we live in, and hoped to build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow – an entire city – at Disney World in Florida.

Unfortunately, Walt died before that dream could become a reality – and EPCOT instead became another theme park. But during his lifetime, Walt did commission three attractions at Disneyland (two of which were cloned at Walt Disney World) that he hoped would play a major role in the transformation of urban environments. Each of the three featured technology that was ahead of its time – but ultimately, they fell somewhat short of Walt’s lofty goals.

Let’s take a look at these three innovative attractions, and what Walt hoped to achieve by adding them to his theme park’s line-up.

3. The monorail

The first major expansion of Disneyland was completed in 1959, and included the addition of the Matterhorn Bobsleds (the first tubular steel roller coaster) and the Submarine Voyage (which employed an innovative ride system to take guests on an “underwater” tour). The most ambitious new addition, though, was the Monorail.

Walt had seen a monorail system in action during a trip to Europe in 1958, and immediately put his Imagineers to work on a version of the German Alweg-style monorail on his return. He had chosen the Alweg system because it employed a unique straddle-beam track, a slender design that would allow the beam to blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. He was also impressed by the combination of electric propulsion and rubber wheels on the beam, which enabled near-silent operation.


Image © Disney

Disney commissioned Alweg to design a beamway around Tomorrowland, but asked one of his own Imagineers, Bob Gurr, to redesign the trains to make them look more futuristic and attractive. When the ride opened on June 14, 1959, it was the first daily operating monorail system in the Western Hemisphere.

Monorail (2)

Image © Disney

The ride offered a scenic overview of Tomorrowland – but Walt hoped that it would do much more than that. He was convinced that it could solve the growing transit problems in the world’s cities, and invited numerous city transporation groups to ride it. He also extended Disneyland’s version with a link to the Disneyland Hotel in 1961, turning it into a true transportation system.

Monorail (3)

Image © Disney

A monorail system would also have played an important role in Walt’s experimental city, EPCOT. It would have carried residents on longer journeys, to the Magic Kingdom theme park, to factories and research laboratories on an industrial park and to the airport on the fringes of the city.

Monorail (4)

Image © Disney

Ultimately, city authorities moved more slowly than Walt Disney. As they procrastinated over the installation of mass transit systems such as the monorail, cars increasingly became the de-facto method of transporation in many US cities. Years after Walt’s death, Las Vegas did install a monorail system of its own – even employing some of Disney’s old trains. Walt Disney World also has an extensive monorail system, just as Walt had hoped. But monorails have yet to take off as a solution to urban transit issues.

2. The WEDWay


The PeopleMover at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Image: Jeff Krause, Flickr

Walt Disney longed for an overhead transportation system that could offer people a rapid overview of an area in a city. In 1964, he set Imagineer Bob Gurr to work on creating one. The result was the WEDWay, also known as the “PeopleMover”.

The chief innovation of the WEDWay was that the vehicles never stopped moving. Instead, guests boarded via a circular moving walkway, which dramatically improved the loading speed when compared to a linear walkway. This was coupled with a set of small trains that were pushed along by rotating tires that were embedded in the track every nine feet, each with its own electric motor. The cars themselves did not have motors, and the breakdown of any of the spinning tires would not cause the entire system to break down.

Like the monorail, the WEDWay was to play a vital role at EPCOT. The city would have a simple design, not dissimilar to the famous hub-and-spoke layout employed by Disneyland. At its heart would be a 50-acre urban complex, with an enormous, 30-story hotel at its center. At the base of the hotel would be an international shopping district, with stores representing countries from all over the world.

Surrounding the central area would be a series of three further “rings” in a radial system. The first would host high-density apartments. The next would be a greenbelt hosting parks, playgrounds and schools. The final ring would be a low-density residential area, complete with houses that would see their furnishings and appliances replaced constantly with newer versions.

Residents would commute to work via WEDway trams, just like those planned for Disneyland. Automobiles and trucks would be restricted to underground tunnels, and to a one-way road that circled EPCOT – so the PeopleMovers would enable the city to become a more-or-less car-free zone. Walt believed that this would provide a model for cities all over the world to follow – he was not impressed by the impact that motor vehicles had had on Los Angeles, where Disney was based.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

The Inter-Terminal Train at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Image: Alan Cordova

Walt hoped to bring representatives from cities and shopping malls to see the first WEDWay system once it opened as part of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland makeover in 1967. However, he died before he had the chance. Without Walt as a cheerleader, the system never caught on. However, it is still in use at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. It was also updated in the 1970s for the Walt Disney World version, which employs linear induction motors to propel its vehicles.

1. The Monsanto House of the Future

Walt Disney was interested in transforming the urban environment in which people lived. He was also keen to change the actual homes in which they resided. His dream at EPCOT was for residents to live in homes that were constantly updated with new technologies, such as appliances and entertainment devices.

At Disneyland, he already had an example of what such a futuristic home might look like. The Monsanto House of the Future, sponsored by the Monsanto Chemical Company’s Plastics Division, concentrated on plastic as the building material of the future. It was installed in 1957, and was designed to show what life would be like in 1986.

Monsanto House of the Future

The Monsanto House of the Future overlooked Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
Image © Corbis

The house itself looked like a 1,280 square foot futuristic white penthouse, and was not drasticially different to some modern contemporary homes in urban cities today. It was perched on a pedestal which provided an area below for an oasis-like garden, complete with a serene waterfall. It had four wings of equal size that created eight rooms: a family room and dining room, two kids bedrooms with a shared bathroom, a master bedroom and main bathroom, and of course a living room. The house itself was made of plastic, from the walls to the floors to the ceiling and beyond.

Populating those rooms were a variety of appliances that were not yet commonplace in the 1950s and 1960s. Among these were a compact microwave oven, an ultrasonic dishwaver, an intercom system and a large wall-mounted television. Along with polyester clothing, these are all examples of items that are now in widespread use.

By 1967, the house was beginning to look outdated, and Monsanto was taking up sponsorship of the new Adventure Thru Inner Space attraction. It was decided to remove the House of the Future – but this wasn’t as easy as planned. It took approximately two weeks to remove the building, and supportive pieces of the structure’s base remain “hidden” in plain sight between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland to this day.

Perhaps more than any other Disneyland attraction, the House of the Future really did reflect what was to come – although whether it actually influenced the direction that urban accommodation moved in is open to debate. Still, when you use your microwave, try on a poly-blend sweater or stack the dishwasher, think back to the dream presented by Disney and Monsanto.