The prototype for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (E.P.C.O.T) promised a revolutionary transportation system. The lowest “floor” of E.P.C.O.T. would feature automobiles. Walt Disney didn’t want the clutter of gridlock. The main “floor” of his utopia would host the residents and guests of E.P.C.O.T. This place would utilize monorails to transport guests across vast distances.
A different kind of vehicle would carry people to their final destination. It would negate the need for walking and thereby optimize transportation efficiency at E.P.C.O.T. That idealistic form of travel has evolved into a wonderful attraction but also a shell of its expected form. Let’s go behind the ride to understand why the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is somehow one of the best attractions ever built but also something of a disappointment to the Imagineers involved.
The experience: a “Magic Skyway” that carries guests above trafficked areas
The trick: A revolutionary kind of ride vehicle/experience
One of the oddities of Tomorrowland at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom alike is that many of the quasi-futuristic attractions of yesteryear seem rather dated by now. Indulge me as I discuss the PeopleMover for what it represented in the 1960s rather than how you think of it today.
In the years leading up to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney’s team of Imagineers at WED Enterprises invented a new technology. This form of transportation would work as an above-ground conveyor belt, pushing guests along a set path. By utilizing the higher elevation, it would reduce traffic on the main walkways.
Uncle Walt famously got the idea while visiting Ford Motor Company. He watched an automated system transport hot metal. While a normal person would gaze in awe at the innovation, Disney conceptualized a different integration of the same scientific principle. He realized that a gigantic conveyor belt could host many cabs, thereby transporting human in the same way that the Ford system passed hot metal from station to station.
The experience: Forced propulsion at a regulated speed and time
WED Enterprises demonstrated the first proof of concept of the PeopleMover at Ford’s Magic Skyway, one of the five most popular attractions at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Guests marveled at the efficiency of timed arrivals at various set pieces. Meanwhile, transportation manufacturers expressed awe at the system’s means of propulsion.
The vehicle cabs aka the ride carts didn’t even have engines! Instead, Imagineers provided all of the movement from below the vehicles. The track employed spinning wheels at set lengths. Once the ride cart, the Ford car, reached the designated area, the hidden wheels would propel the vehicle to the next spot. This movement led to a secondary concern. Since objects in motion stay in motion, Imagineers needed a way to slow down and sometimes stop the ride carts.
Uncle Walt had intuited that the braking system in place on Matterhorn Bobsleds fit perfectly with the conveyor belt cab system. With a braking system, the Magic Skyway could have track that ran up or down. Without one, fender benders would have occurred frequently, leading to entire system shutdowns.
Imagineers could stop and start vehicles whenever they needed, thereby eliminating the chance of a traffic jam. In a way, Disney’s smartest employees produced a solution for all modern traffic woes more than half a century ago. Unfortunately, not enough people listened. Drivers require too much control of their travel, although the future of travel is computer automation. At that point, the PeopleMover will once again seem like a profound innovation.
The experience: a ride through all the best parts of Tomorrowland
The trick: Uncle Walt’s salesmanship creates accidental dividends
unmistakable similarities to a roller coaster, this project along with Virgin Hyperloop One demonstrate that history repeats itself. Walt Disney once invented a new form of transportation that could change the world. Sadly, he lacked the capital to fund it.Have you followed any of the Boring Company’s recent attempts to build an underground transportation system? While clever theme park tourists have noticed the
Uncle Walt spent a great deal of his fortune on the Florida Project. Any form of major metropolitan system costs a great deal of money, something Elon Musk and Richard Branson face with their current projects. Despite the remarkable success of Disney’s World’s Fair pavilions, WED Enterprises couldn’t find any investors willing to bank on conveyor belt transportation.
Left with no other options, Disney came up with yet another elegant solution. He found a way to market the new transportation system at Disneyland. In the process, he also found a way to market new attractions at Disneyland. It was like a nesting doll marketing scheme.
The official name of this attraction was the PeopleMover, Presented by Goodyear. Called the PeopleMover for short, this ride debuted on July 2, 1967, barely 18 months after the 1964 New World’s Fair closed (in October of 1965). Uncle Walt hosted it at the Happiest Place on Earth in order to show off the cutting edge transportation technology.
His attempts were quite successful. Guests marveled at the technology, stunned by how the propulsion engines weren’t onboard the vehicle. They’d stare out at the mechanical wheels hosted in the tracks and attempt to decipher the scientific principles at play. During the late 1960s, many Disney fans perceived the PeopleMover as the sequel to the Monorail.
The new Tomorrowland attraction seemed like the future of transportation, marrying it beautifully to the themed land’s core concept. Any visit to Tomorrowland required a trip on the PeopleMover, thereby building its awareness among investors.
Simultaneously, Imagineers laid out the track of the PeopleMover in a special fashion. They ensured that its path would carry guests by the many new and recently improved attractions at Tomorrowland. Disney invested a lot of money in modernizing the futuristic themed land. Thanks to the path of the PeopleMover, guests could appreciate just how much Tomorrowland had improved. Yes, the PeopleMover sold Tomorrowland while a ride around Tomorrowland sold investors on the PeopleMover. Walt Disney was a business genius.