Wouldn’t you love to know what people thought the future would look like back in 1957? With technology being what it is today (for example, my mom recently freaked out because she saw a commercial for the iPhone’s “intelligent personal assistant”, the voice activated Siri application that talks back when you ask it a question), how close did the baby boomers come in predicting how far we’d advance?
Let’s take a look back at Disneyland’s Monsanto House of the Future, also known as the Plastics Home of the Future. It was one of Tomorrowland’s first walk-through attractions and operated from 1957 to 1967. The attraction was sponsored by the Monsanto Chemical Company's Plastics Division, and focused on plastic as the building material of the future.
* The futuristic setting was meant to be 1986.
The house itself looked like a 1,280 square foot futuristic white penthouse, not terribly different than many modern contemporary homes in urban cities today. I could easily see a similar condo set in Los Angeles, California, overlooking a city full of lights with its nearly panoramic windows. 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 (one for a boy, one for a girl) with a shared bathroom, a master bedroom and main bathroom, and of course a living room.
Looking into the future
Within these rooms, guests were given an all-access pass to peruse modern day home appliances that weren’t all that commonplace back in the 50s and 60s. They were able to get up close and personal with a compact microwave oven and ultrasonic dishwasher, an intercom system and a huge wall-mounted television (sadly for Disneyland guests, the television wasn’t functional as it wasn’t even ready to depict color) as well as polyester clothing – all of which are in great use today.
Because the Monsanto House of the Future was really a promotional tool for the Monsanto Chemical Company, everything revolved around the use of plastics. The company used Disneyland guests as their own personal test subjects, which totaled 20 million visitors in its ten years of operation.
The structure itself was made of the durable material, from the walls to the floors to the ceiling and beyond. The rooms were filled with plastic furniture, and the kitchen was even stocked with plastic dishes. I can’t help but think of shopping at Target or Ikea these days, where they sell all manner of affordable plastic furnishings and an array of plastic dinnerware (much of which I have sitting in my kitchen cabinet as I type this). Also, check out Beyonce and Jay-Z’s $3500 NurseryWorks VETRO Lucite crib to see how luxurious plastic has become!
*The juxtaposition between the retro décor and the futuristic materials is said to have been quite funny back in the day, although I’ve seen plenty of similar motifs recur on design websites. Everything comes back in style at some point!
The demise and rebirth of the House of the Future
Monsanto backed another attraction in 1967 called the “Adventure Thru Inner Space”. This particular launch was the beginning of the end of the Monsanto House of the Future. Aside from Monsanto shifting their focus to another project, the futuristic home was well on its way to being outdated before 1986. Technology tends to grow and spread like wildfire, and microwave ovens weren’t going to stay novel for long. When it came time to recycle this space in Tomorrowland, it proved nearly impossible to demolish the earthquake-proof structure! It took approximately two weeks to remove the Plastics Home of the Future, and supportive pieces of the structure’s base remain “hidden” in plain sight between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland to this day.
The Plastics Home of the Future got a reboot with Disney’s Innoventions Dream Home in 2008. Rather than sell guests on a futuristic setting, they now deem the dream home’s rooms functional and innovative. It’s a fun detour during a long day at the park, but nowhere near as exciting as a microwave would have been in 1957.
In closing, I may not have an intercom system at home but I did microwave a leftover burrito, wear a poly-blend sweater, wash a load of dishes with the touch of a button and watch an hour of TV on my wall-mounted flat screen within the last 24 hours. I think that Disneyland’s Imagineers and the Monsanto Chemical Company definitely knew what they were doing when they designed the Plastics Home of the Future!