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.
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.
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.
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.
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.