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5 Amazing Disney Inventions That Changed Theme Parks Forever

Disneyland map

At his animation studios, Walt Disney constantly pushed the boundaries of technology. He released the first color animated short, the first to feature sound and the first feature-length animated picture. When he launched Disneyland in 1955, he brought the same spirit of innovation with him. Over the years, Disney’s Imagineers have pioneered a range of technologies and concepts. Let’s take a look at 5 that have endured the test of time and are still going strong today.

5. The hub and spoke

Disneyland map

Image: Disney

Unhappy with the haphazard design of funfairs in the 1950s, which usually featured multiple entrances and exits and a confusing layout, Walt Disney was determined that Disneyland would be different. He designed a “hub and spoke layout”, featuring a single entrance. Guests would be filtered down Main Street, USA to a central plaza, from which they could reach of the different lands. The system was so successful that it has been employed by every Disney park since, as well as by numerous competitors.

4. The Omnimover

Adventure Thru Inner Space

Image: Disney

At the 1964 World’s Fair, a number of rides employed systems that saw an endless loop of vehicles travel around a circuit. This ensured high capacity, but there was one major problem: guests were usually facing the back of the seat in front of them. What would be better would be a system that allowed the cars to rotate as required, as well as travelling up-and-down hills. Imagineers Bob Gurr and John Hench designed such a system, the Omnimover, which was first employed by Adventure Thru Inner Space at Disneyland. It has since been used by dozens of Disney rides, from the Haunted Mansion to Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid.

3.The WEDWay

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 ride, opened in 1967 in Tomorrowland, employed a unique turntable system to enable continuous loading. It was updated in the 1970s for the Walt Disney World version, which employs linear induction motors to propel its vehicles. Thought it wasn’t picked up by dozens of major cities as Disney had hoped, the WEDWay system is still in use at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.

2. The trackless dark ride

Pooh's Hunny Hunt The next evolution of the dark system came at the turn of the new millenium. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland employs a unique trackless system, which differs from others that already existed on the market in that it uses an array of sensors to control the movement of vehicles instead of a wire embedded in the floor. It has since been used by Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland, and will also be employed by the soon-to-open Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémyat Walt Disney Studios, Paris.

1. Audio-Animatronics

Great Moments with Mr Lincoln

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr

Arguably Disney’s biggest contribution to theme park technology was the invention of audio-animatronics, which enable realistic “human” and other characters to bring scenes to life. The Imagineers had already made significant progress in this area by 1963, when Walt Disney decided to create an animated version of Abraham Lincoln for the 1964 World’s Fair. The result wowed the crowds, and a version was subsequently installed at Disneyland. These days, almost all Disney dark rides make use of audio-animatronics, as do rides from dozens of rival theme park operators.