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Abandoned: Why One of Disney's Best Ever Attractions is Rotting in Plain Sight

Some attractions aren't meant to last. Some rides simply meet the end of their operational life thanks to improving technologies that make them obsolete. Sometimes, attractions lose favor as a new generation begins to visit the parks and loses touch with classic rides. Unfortunately, there are times that rides need to be removed to make way for something bigger, better, grander. Some attractions simply aren't made to withstand the test of time.

Make no mistake: none of that is true of the PeopleMover. Gentle, simple, and outstanding in concept and execution, the progressive PeopleMover at Disneyland was a prototype for the future – one of Walt's innovations aimed at making life better for everyone. The classic attraction was poised to glide into the 21st century as a fan favorite and a wonderful, high-capacity ride along the highways of Tomorrowland. But the PeopleMover never saw the new millennium. Today, we're going to find out why.

As the latest in our Lost Legends series, we're asking again for your help. So far, we've explored a few lost attractions that we simply can't let die – from Alien Encounter and TOMB RAIDER: The Ride to Horizons; from California Adventure's one Soarin' success to Journey into Imagination and Maelstrom, and dozens more. Our hope is that, through your comments and sharing, we can preserve these lost attractions for a new generation who might hear about rides like the PeopleMover, but wonder, "What was the big deal?" So together, let's glide into history and explore the life of this lost Tomorrowland wonder. 

Yesterdayland

When Disneyland opened in 1955, its Tomorrowland looked a world away from the land we recognize today. As the last of the park’s themed lands to be finished, Tomorrowland suffered the most from budget cuts and proprietary spending elsewhere. The first guests to visit would’ve recognized the land as a corporate showcase, with exhibits sponsored (and heavily branded) by Monsanto Company, American Motors, Dutch Boy Paint, and Richfield Oil to name just a few.

At the time, the land’s “starring’ attractions during its first year might’ve been the Kaiser Aluminum Hall of Fame, Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow, Circarama, and a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea walkthrough utilizing remnants from the 1954 film. It wasn’t even until the year after the park’s opening that it finally hosted the Astro Jets – passenger-controlled rockets circling in Dumbo style – and the Skyway to Fantasyland.

If you asked Imagineers, this “Tomorrowland” was set in the then-distant 1986 – a year so incomprehensibly far away, it might as well have been the stuff of science fiction. Imagine, for example, if today’s version of Tomorrowland tried to accurately and scientifically predict the technologies and inventions of 2046. Surprisingly (or maybe not), Disney and his team actually did do an exceptional job of predicting the textures, style, and feeling of the Space Age.

Over its first decade, Tomorrowland prospered. 1957 saw the opening of the fabled Monsanto House of the Future, a dynamic cantilevered home that dreamed of picture phones, remote-controlled televisions, and the must-see microwave oven that stopped visitors dead in their tracks. (The countertop version wouldn’t be available for another ten years.)

1959 saw the largest expansion in Tomorrowland’s history, and certainly in the park’s to that point. Three major attractions opened, all earning a newly invented designation: the E-ticket. Requiring the most limited and expensive ticket (in a park still based on a pay-per-ride system), the three new attractions were showstoppers. They were the Disneyland Monorail (the world’s first daily operating monorail system), the Submarine Voyage (the world’s largest peacetime submarine fleet, as Walt boasted) and the Matterhorn (the world’s first tubular steel-tracked roller coaster).

The massive influx of resources and attention on a mostly-undeveloped corner of Tomorrowland was no accident. With 1960 on the horizon, Tomorrowland had become something of a project for Walt. While the rest of the park was growing, Walt had felt since opening day that Tomorrowland was “not quite finished.” At Imagineering, the 1960s would see tremendous innovation and change, and it would all come to a head in a New Tomorrowland...Next, we’ll explore the inventions and technologies that Disney pioneered in the 1960s, and step into New Tomorrowland.

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There are 28 comments.

wow what a great read. I love these in depth looks at the history of parks and rides long forgotten. I myself have always said that the people mover is the best ride at magic kingdom. for someone who has grown up in Orlando and practically lives at the parks, its nice to be able to just walk onto a ride with no wait time and get a nice relaxing 15 min tour with the breeze in your face.

Wow, Alien and Timekeeper in Orlando? Sign me Up! Where can i get tickets for those!

Fantastic article; thanks so much for writing it. Fills in a lot of information about not just the PeopleMover but also Tomorrowland's evolution to its current disjointed state. I started visiting Disneyland in the late 1970's, and the PM was always one of my favorite rides. It was a tour combined with a mild thrill ride, the way the tracks wandered up and down through the land, the trees, and the other attractions made it a truly unique and fun experience that I never tired of and miss to this day. I do hope, in the process of a TL re-imagining, they can see fit to bring it back to life in a way that does the original justice. The Rocket Rods were an abomination and rightly went out of service quickly. The element of kinetic energy and fluidity of motion mentioned in the article and conspicuously missing today is a shame, and their absence casts a pall over the land. I'm cautiously optimistic that a renovation will recognize these missteps and endeavor to right them. Time will tell...

Wow. What a fantastic post. It was fascinating to read such a comprehensive history of this amazing attraction.

Like many, I've held out hope for a return of the People Mover, but you've explained very clearly why this can never be. And the fact we have to stare at its decaying bones makes the situation even sadder.

This was a great read. Thanks for putting it together!

GREAT read--I love this series.

One thing--no mention of Rocket to the Moon? Didn't it open in Disneyland's first year and surely it would be seen then as Tomorrowland's star attraction.

You're right, it would've been! Its most well-known and celebrated incarnation, though, was Flight to the Moon, which opened with New Tomorrowland (67) in a new and improved show building. But you're right, and it probably was the star of Tomorrowland in '55, matched with Autopia.

This was a fascinating read. I agree with what the other comments say about how great and sad the whole thing was. I did want to note that part of the reason for getting rid of the people mover, apart from style changes, was that it broke down a lot. My brother and I went on it shortly after Star Tours had opened and the ride broke down just as we past the Star Tours entrance. Due to the closed-in nature of the cars, we were stuck in there for at least half an hour or more (the animatronic C-3PO and company cycled no less than three times) before we were rescued. This was a pretty common occurrence, from what I came to understand, at least by the late 80s. Again, that could be one of many reasons for its removal.

Managed to ride the rocket cars once. It was not worth the long line I waited through, mainly because it went way too fast through what was supposed to be a grand tour of the park. You blink, you miss it.

Being a season pass holder, I find myself drawn more to the California Adventure park now. The rides are fewer but more engaging. Also, the themed areas are still true to their vision. Not some piecemeal combination of stuff like Tomorrowland is. I don't think Tomorrowland will ever be a showcase of the future again. Instead it will be transformed into a branded land that will focus on merchandising whatever Disney owned property ends up being the star there.

I first want to compliment you for an outstanding article about my absolute favorite Disney attraction. Well sort of. While I have been to Walt Disney World many times, this past May 2015 was my first ever trip to Disneyland. I am an avid fan of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority ride (Peoplemover) at WDW and was so excited about the prospect of riding the original on my pending trip to Disneyland. I had absolutely no idea that it had closed and was thoroughly disappointed upon arriving there only to learn of it's demise so many years ago. How could I have missed that. After all I read about all things Disney every opportunity (Which is pretty much every day) and couldn't believe that this was gone. I would so love to be able to ride that original version of this classic ride some day.
After reading your article, I have to add that I don't think it would be as difficult to put this ride back in operation as one might think. I work in the construction industry and after watching the ride thru video embedded in your article plus what I saw of the tracks on my recent trip, I truly see this as a doable project. I know you have the ADA hurdle to deal with but that too isn't a big problem. I mean we ARE talking about Disney right, Imagineers and all that stuff. I know management would make many Disney enthusiasts / purists very happy if they were to find it in them to do exactly this. About the only think I see keeping them from doing it is of course... Money! Even then, I believe that see where having this ride in operation would actually benefit them greatly. As you stated this / was is a high capacity ride which because of it's ability to draw large quantities of people would relieve the burden on the other attractions thereby decreasing wait times. This intern would get guests thru the rides quicker & on to where Disney ultimately wants them to end up. That's right, Gift Shops and Restaurants / Food Kiosks. I think that corporates all too often are so short sighted that they are looking for the quick solution to return on their investment and they completely miss out on the big picture.
But then again, I am only one fan wishing for the return of something that was classic and actually makes us all fell as though we knew Walt personally. I want to again thank you for such a wonderful piece of work. Keep them coming because I have become a fan of your site even though I only recently found out about it.

P.S. I don't have my own website but I put the link to my son's sports blog. He will be starting at LSU this coming fall where he will study Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communications. His goal is to become a Sports Journalist. I would appreciate if found a moment to give him a look. I think you will like what you see.

I am very blessed to own one of the cars. It makes me smile everyday.

I'm happy to say that in one way Rocket Rods still survives today. I was one of the two programmers for the Rocket Rods onboard vehicle software. My task was the layer that was more concerned with general features of ride control. So although the attraction itself was short lived the software framework developed for Rocket Rods has been reused in numerous other attractions including Pooh (Toyko), Tower of Terror and Cars. I like to think of Rocket Rods as the $16M test bed for the Imagineer's Ride Library which is still in use today. So just like Magic Skyway the pieces that are useful do get reused. :)

With all the strides toward a nature-inspired future, Disney should turn the people mover into a one-way bike path. Disney-branded bikes could only be used on the path. One to three stations could be added at ideal locations. Rules would exist to ensure there wouldn't be too much congestion.
The money saved on build a new attraction on the track would instead go toward safe rails, hanging gardens & ADA compliance. Motorized single/tandem quadracycles would be available for the handicapped.
Separate from the track (but near it), half-pipes & BMX courses could be installed. These would be separate attractions that qualified Disney performers would utilize (and show off). In those areas, there would be wide sections of the track where people could pause & watch.

Another great article. You mention Timekeeper at the end though, that hasn't been there in a LOOOOONG time. It's Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, which I am sure you already know, but it makes it seem like you wrote this article years back when Timekeeper was still there (another greatly missed attraction, RIP Robin Williams).

Glad to have come across this site. Have gone through most of the links. One ride/attraction I haven't seen yet, maybe I missed it, was the old Eastern Airlines ride in Walt Disney World in Orlando, which is now the Toy Story attraction. I believe it closed up before I became a teenager. I would love to see if anything can be shared about that attraction. Keep up the good work.

This was the DELTA DREAMFLIGHT -- great attraction!!

In the late 70s and early 80s, Disneyland was an annual trip the week between Christmas and New Years. The last one was Spring Break. Anyway, we got very used to seeing it on the out of service sign at the entrance, since it seemed like the hint of rain was enough to shut it down. I suspect that this is why the WDW version was self powered and completely covered... I think that in 5 years we got to ride it once.

I worked at Disneyland in the early 80's and one of the attractions I worked on was PeopleMover. And, yes, we walked all day on the moving platform in polyester jumpsuits that were very uncomfortable and quite un-flattering to the male physique. When the wind blew, it was crazy cold up there with no place to hide... And, yes, the ride would be stopped every once in a while...usually because an unruly teenager would climb out of one of the cars to show off to friends...there were mats along the side of the track inside the buildings that would set off an alarm if someone walked on them...plus there were quite a few cameras positioned along the tracks to keep a look out for people climbing out of the train cars. If a mat alarm went off or if you saw someone on camera out of the train cars, you would shut down the ride immediately so that no one would get hurt....then the time consuming task of evacuating everyone off the ride by foot...Grad Nights were the worst!!

Paul Pressler, then President of Disneyland, got the blame for the epic failure of Rocket Rods, along with the lack of maintenance and other entertainment blunders that happened during his tenure, including "Light Magic," which was supposed to be the overly-hyped replacement for the "Main Street Electrical Parade" but only lasted a single summer after its epically-flubbed preview to Annual Passholders who were promised a "sneak peak" of the show only to get a dress rehearsal with nearly none of the special effects and technology yet working, then the finished show causing a logjam on Main Street U.S.A. so severe that guests had to be routed through the "back of the house" to get to the park exits (previously doing so was all but anathema). The show ended on Labor Day weekend with teasers that it would be retooled and come back later that year; it never did. I remember as a passholder how many of us started sending back the light bulbs from the Electrical Parade back en masse after seeing Light Magic the first time (they had sold off the parade bulbs for charity).

Great post. I grew up in Lakewood Ca. and my aunt worked at the park. My Grandfather built the roofs on downtown main st USA. I really missed this ride when I came back with my wife last year. Bring back the people mover and please bring back adventure through inner space. That was my another great ride that disappeared. Thanks for the great information.

Wonderful article...very in depth and much appreciated. Thank you!

WOW! Great article! Tank you for all of the info! I was at DL a few weeks ago and was very disappointed. I visited TL, my favorite land of them all and it had been bastardized into a giant Star Wars promotion land. It's just sad. After I saw this abomination, my soul died just a little bit. I think that was my very last trip to DL. At this point, 20 years later, I have lost any hope of a return of the PeopleMover.

Thank you for publishing this wonderful article which serves as proof that once upon a time Disneyland Tomorrowland was a fantastic hub (a place where park guests left feeling that "beautiful bright tomorrow") ....

It saddens me that Eisner's regime took a giant poop all over Disneyland (and it shows in Tomorrowland as this area is a poop chute of its formal self)! But - since Iger's regime can afford to build a new theme park in China AND a Star Wars land extension in Disneyland - I sincerely hope within the next 5 years Tomorrowland is brought back to its original retro future environment (with minimal influence from Pixar Marvel Star Wars franchises - and no more gift shops at the ride's exit)!

The only thing stopping our dreams from coming true are the damn Bean Counters at Team Disney Burbank (the Walt Disney Company is swimming in profit, it can afford to make things right, especially if it wants to compete with Universal Studios Hollywood)!

It's sad to see Tomorrowland crumbling away.
The Submarines, Mission to Mars, America the Beautiful, The Rocket Jets, America Sings and the People Mover were all closed at the same time for years.
Actually I thought the park was in deep financial trouble and simply didn't care anymore.
Since that time Tomorrowland has seen improvements, but abandoned The Rocket Jet platform and tangle of People Mover/Rocket Rod track are just ugly eyesores.
I wonder what Walt would think?
Bad show.

Really interesting article. I can't say I miss the People Mover at all though. There are many classic rides I'd be pissed if they removed but that was never one of them. Also don't really get the negativity over the current Tomorrowland. Star Tours is great, Submarines have been updated and look really good. Space Mountan got a minor Star Wars update but would be better if they really upgraded it. Autopia needs to be replaced, it's dirty and boring but kids still dig it.

Running an amusement park is much harder than armchair imagineering. I like to hear the theories because everything on paper looks amazing from an enthusiast point of view. The facts are much more complicated than the regurgitated articles that continue to roll out on the inter webs. Rarely do we get factual information out on the Wikipedia that is Disney fan fiction sites from real insiders such as Bob Gurr, who actually spoke to Walt and could tell you exactly what happened and "what Walt was thinking". But entertaining somewhat to read.

I'd love to see If You Had Wings visited. Loved that ride. Loved all the others that came after it too but that was my gave. I've only ever been to WDW so it was interesting to read about the PM. I love TTA and find it a refreshing ride.

if you had never been to tomorrowland pre 1995 then i could understand why this article makes no sense, but to me it makes complete sense.

first - the people mover was GREAT. It was a relaxing ride, and one of the only rides that had a continuous loading so there was rarely ever a wait. you got a 13 min break from walking/standing in line during the hot summer months. Also gave a cool (mild) behind the scenes overview of disneyland, and the Tron part was so exciting as a kid even though it was super short.

moving the rockets to the lower level in front was a mistake too. the elevated original spot was so much more fun and scary as a kid.

to me, once the sky ride left, and the people mover, rockets being lowered, the land lost its character. I remember riding the sky ride at night, coming thru the Matterhorn, music blasting from the stage where they now do jedi school, and seeing the people mover and all the other things going on below. Its just not the same anymore.

These are interesting facts. One thing that I'm surprised wasn't mentioned in the article was the superspeed tunnel that was added to the attraction in May of 1977. It was located on the top floor and back side of the Carousel of Progress/America Sings building replacing the Progress City scene. Originally it was supposedly race cars and boats projected on the dark wrap around screen. Then in 1982 TRON footage replaced the race cars/boats. The projected images on the screen flashing by really fast gave the illusion of speed, so as to simulate speeding down various darkened corridors on light cycles. This made it seem as though the People Mover had suddenly become a thrill ride. After about a minute the ride would exit the tunnel on the north side of the building by the Skyway, and the Master computer would tell riders that they were lucky to have escaped the game grid this time, but the next time they might not be. I miss this ride. It brings back memories of Tomorrowland's glory days. If I can suggest anything I can say as soon as they're through with construction of Star Wars Land and Marvel Land, imagineers should work on restoring Tomorrowland, bringing back the People Mover including the return of the superspeed tunnel of some kind.

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