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June 2, 2014

Tomorrowland - Part Two

Jack Spence Masthead

Last week I told you how the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland was far from complete on opening day. I also discussed the Flight to the Moon and the Mission to Mars attractions. Today I will continue my tour of Tomorrowland with a look at the Circle-Vision movies that were shown here along with If You Had Wings and three of its predecessors.

Directly across the concourse from the Flight to the Moon/Mission to Mars ride was the America the Beautiful attraction. Like so many other rides, this presentation could trace its roots back to Disneyland.

The first Disneyland 360 film was titled "A Tour of the West."� It was shot on 16mm film and used eleven cameras and eleven screens to completely surround guests with images of Southern California, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley. It was an opening day attraction and one of just a handful that survived the day without a mishap. It was shown in the Circarama Theater and was eleven minutes in length. The name Circarama was a takeoff of the recently coined term Cinerama, the new theater process in which movies such as "How the West Was Won"� and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"� were shown on three synchronized screens.

Most people know that Walt was associated with the 1964/65 New York World's Fair, but most do not know that he was also associated with the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.

After the opening of Disneyland, Walt was approached by Howard S. Cullman, U.S. Commissioner General in charge of the fair's American exhibit. He asked Walt to create a Circarama movie showcasing the United States. Cullman wanted to show Europe the beauty and majesty of our fine country. The movie would be shot using 35mm film and would ultimately end up being 18 minutes in length. The movie was titled "America the Beautiful."� The Ford Motor Company would sponsor the attraction. After the fair closed, the movie was moved to Disneyland and opened in June, 1960, replacing A Tour of the West.

1958 Brussels World's Fair

1958 Brussels World's Fair


America the Beautiful Poster

When Disneyland's Tomorrowland was remodeled in 1966 and 1967, a new 360 movie was filmed. In addition, the number of cameras and screens were reduced from eleven to nine as it was discovered that fewer screens made viewing more palatable for guests prone to motion sickness. The new movie was still titled "America the Beautiful,"� but the theater was now called Circle-Vision 360.

America the Beautiful Movie

America the Beautiful Movie

The film began with a view of Mount Rushmore and a rousing chorus of "America the Beautiful"� being sung in the background. It then took audiences on a stirring 18½ minute journey across America. During production, the camera was mounted atop a car, a hook & ladder fire truck, and several water craft. It was also suspended from a B-25 bomber. To create an unobstructed view while in flight, the camera was attached to a specially designed hydraulic device contained within the plane's bomb-bay. When flying over desired locales, the camera could be lowered for filming.

CircleVision Camera

CircleVision Camera

This second version of America the Beautiful opened in the Magic Kingdom on November 25, 1971 and was sponsored by Monsanto. It was a free attraction in the day of ticket books. It entertained audiences for a mere 28 months when its run ended on March 15, 1974. However, this abrupt withdrawal wasn't due to a lack of popularity, but rather a hiatus in which the movie could be modified for the upcoming American Bicentennial. During its absence, a new film, Magic Carpet 'Round the World took its place.

CircleVision Theater

Magic Carpet 'Round the World took guests on a 21-minute journey through more than 20 countries. To enhance the experience, a 24-voice chorus and 56-piece orchestra was used as accompaniment. According to a Disney press release, more than 37 hours of film were edited to create the movie. And some of this cut footage was later reused in the Timekeeper attraction that would play in this same space many years later. This film closed sometime in 1975 and once again, America the Beautiful began showing here, this time with added footage of Philadelphia.

The newly edited version of America the Beautiful only played in Tomorrowland until 1979 when it was once again replaced by Magic Carpet 'Round the World. This second showing of Magic Carpet 'Round the World was featured here for another five years when it was ultimately replaced with an all new movie, American Journeys which opened on September 15, 1984. (Confused? I know I am. Try this. It might help.)

America the Beautiful
Magic Carpet 'Round the World
America the Beautiful (revised)
Magic Carpet 'Round the World
American Journeys

American Journeys was similar in concept to America the Beautiful in that it toured our great nation from sea to shining sea. But along the way, it tried to present a more realistic view of America. Depictions of the land and its people were far more diverse and "colorful" than its "predominately white" predecessor. During a portion of its run, American Journeys was sponsored by Black and Decker. It was last shown in the Magic Kingdom on January 9, 1994.

In 1980, the second version of America the Beautiful was released on 16mm film for educational use. However, it was not in 360 Circle-Vision. Only the front-facing screen was shown. Anyone who has ever seen this movie would know, without the other eight screens, the viewer is missing a lot. This single-screen version can be seen on YouTube if you're curious.

I had the privilege of watching the second version of America the Beautiful once with a cast member working the attraction at Disneyland. As he was required to be in the theater while the movie was shown to audiences, he had become very familiar with it. In fact, he had watched the movie so many times he decided that he would start watching only one screen for an entire showing just to see what he could discover. And it turns out his efforts were not wasted as he found that not all the scenes used in the movie were entirely family friendly. Fortunately, most of the objectionable scenes were not noticeable to the audience as they were not the focus of attention at that particular moment in the film or were "blurred"� out by Disney. But since AllEars is a family-friendly site, I can't share these images with you now. However, if you ever run into me while I'm out and about in the parks, feel free to ask me.

When discussing the original Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland, there is one attraction that stirs people's interests more than any other, If You Had Wings. This Florida original had a loyal following and many still lament its passing into obscurity.

You will see the attraction's name written in three different ways on official Disney brochures and plaques: If You Had Wings (all words capitalized), If you had wings (only "If" being capitalized), and if you had wings (no capitalization). For ease of reading, I will use traditional "title" convention.

If You Had Wings was sponsored by Eastern Airlines, a major player in the airline industry at that time and the official airlines of Walt Disney World. In 1971, Eastern provided flight service to Orlando from 60 different cities. It is estimated that the airline paid $10M to sponsor the attraction.

In reality, If You Had Wings was nothing more than an amusing 4½ minute advertisement for Eastern. To that end, it did not require a ticket to ride. If You Had Wings opened on June 5, 1972.

If You Had Wings Poster

If You Had Wings Poster Theater

Some suggest that If You Had Wings was inspired by Disneyland's Adventure's Thru Inner Space which had opened four years earlier. After all, they both used the new Omnimover ride system. Both could be viewed from the PeopleMover. Both saw the ride vehicles disappear into large structures (a microscope or globe). They both used a similar track layout. And most importantly, both were designed by Disney Legend Claude Coats who was known for his dark ride designs.

Guests walked through an unassuming doorway to enter If You Had Wings. Once inside they found themselves in a large room that was designed to resemble a modern airport passenger terminal. Overhead were arrival and departure boards listing exotic locales that Eastern serviced. Here is a list of the pending departures:

Caribbean and Island Ports of Call
Su Casa Service to Old San Juan
The Pyramids of Ancient Mexico
The New Orleans Jazz Flight
Bermuda's Underwater Reefs
The Adventure Specials
Bahamas 700 Islands.

Departure Board

As guests continued through the queue, they eventually came to a speed-ramp which would carry them to one of the 102 continually moving 2-3 passenger vehicles. Once seated, guests entered a giant, stylized globe.

If You Had Wings Globe

If You Had Wings Globe

The ride began with the vehicle gently tilting back. This was to impart the feeling of an airplane takeoff. Projected on a blank wall were animated silhouettes of seagulls in flight. These were soon replaced with animated silhouettes of airplanes racing across the sky. In the background, the haunting tune "If You Had Wings"� began to play. The music for this ditty was written by Buddy Baker and the lyrics by X Atencio.

A few moments later, guests found themselves in the thick of things. All around them were colorful props that featured windows, arches, and any number of openings in which a transparent screen could be placed. Behind these screens there were a number of projectors churning out continuous loops of movies depicting some of the many locales Eastern Airlines flew. These included Mexico, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and New Orleans.

If You Had Wings Attraction

If You Had Wings Attraction

In all, the attraction had forty-one 16mm projectors, three 70mm projectors, forty special lighting effects projectors, and one 35mm projector. Unfortunately, all of these projectors made a lot of noise. And no matter how loud Disney turned up the music, it couldn't drown out the rhythmic clicking these machines made.

After visiting the many exotic locations presented at the beginning of the attraction, guests entered the SuperSpeed Tunnel. This was an elongated room with an arched ceiling. Here, racing dune buggies, speeding motorcycles, dare-devil water-skiers, hurtling airboats, acrobatic planes, and other assorted vehicles were seamlessly projected onto the walls and overhead. At the same time, your Omnimover vehicle tilted back and fans blew cool breezes onto your face. All of this combined to give the rider a sense of extreme motion even though you never exceeded the speed of two miles an hour. It was the virtual reality of its day. Unfortunately, technology really hadn't caught up with execution and the images were pretty blurry. Nonetheless, most folks thought this was the best part of the ride.

The SuperSpeed Tunnel was followed by the Mirror Room. In this space, floor to ceiling mirrors reflected images of snow-covered mountains and other serene landscapes.

The final scene brought us back to more projected seagulls and an occasional Eastern aircraft passing by. An announcer would leave us with these parting words: "You do have wings, you can do all these things, you can widen your world, Eastern...we'll be your wings."

Due to financial troubles, Eastern ended its sponsorship of If You Had Wings on June 1, 1987. Four years later, Eastern would be out of business. Despite Eastern's problems, the attraction was extremely popular and racked up over 40 million visitors in just six years.

After Eastern pulled its sponsorship, the Imagineers did a quick makeover of the attraction. In just five days, all references to Eastern Airlines were removed, the theme music and recordings swapped out, and signage changed. The attraction reopened on June 6, 1987 as If You Could Fly.

Although in most ways, If You Could Fly was identical to its predecessor, however it never caught on with the public. Some claim that the attraction had lost its heart and soul when Eastern left. But in reality, this attraction had become tired and out of date. Audiences wanted something more exciting. If You Could Fly closed permanently on January 4, 1989, less than two years after its debut. All of the sets were hastily destroyed in an effort to get ready for the next attraction that would be housed here soon.

Always on the lookout for a corporate sponsor, Disney found a new ally with Delta Air Lines who was eager to take over this outdated attraction and advertise its own product. The new ride would be officially named Delta Dreamflight, but most everyone just called it Dreamflight. Delta would also become the official airlines of Walt Disney World.

Delta Dreamflight Coming Soon

In an effort to save money, the existing Omnimover, track layout, and floor plan were reused, but everything else about this attraction would be new. In just a little over five months after the closing of If You Could Fly, Dreamflight began entertaining guests on June 23, 1989.

Dreamflight Entrance

The first changes guests saw in the new attraction was in the queue. Immediately after entering the building they encountered the nose of Delta 767 plane, complete with jet ramp. The jet was named "The Spirit of Delta"

The Spirit of Delta

The name of this aircraft, "The Spirit of Delta,"� was more than just a cute designation the Imagineers picked for this plane. It actually had a special meaning for Delta.

Due to a weak economy, high fuel prices, and deregulation, Delta posted its first yearly loss in the spring of 1982 after 35 years of consecutive profits. To show their support for the company, three flight attendants spearheaded "Project 767." Their mission was to rouse support among Delta's employees, retirees, and friends and raise $30million in donations to buy Delta its first Boeing 767. On December 15, 1982, they achieved their goal and the company's first 767 was named "The Spirit of Delta."

Further along in the queue guests entered a newly themed terminal lined with travel posters advertising exotic destinations from around the world. Finally, they would enter the jet via a neon and mirrored jet ramp and loaded an Omnimover vehicle.

Delta Dreamflight Attraction

Delta Dreamflight Attraction

Delta Dreamflight Attraction

The basic premise of Dreamflight was to give riders a lighthearted history of flight. This was achieved by using pop-up book style sets, projection techniques, a few AA figures, and realistic tableaus.

Shortly after the ride begins, riders pass by a large rotating turntable. Here they were treated to simple pop-up book depictions of early flight. These included a hot air balloon, a giant wing, and a dirigible type device. In the background, "The Dreamflight Song" by Edo Guidotti is played.

As we entered the next room, we found ourselves in the barnstormer era. On both sides of our vehicle are fairgrounds, farmland, tents, daredevils, and spectators. Overhead, biplanes circled. Once again, the images were simple, pop-up book caricatures.

Dreamflight Attraction

As we moved forward, we entered a barn which some poor pilot had crashed into. Once inside, we could see him hanging from the rafters.

Dreamflight Attraction

On the other side of the barn was a large room with a massive screen on a side wall. As we entered, our vehicle pivoted to face the ever-looping movie and for the next 58 seconds we saw acts of daring do as a biplane and stuntman performed aerial tricks.

Dreamflight Attraction

As we entered the next phase of the ride, things took a slightly more serious look at air travel. We were now at the beginning of the passenger service era as we boarded a seaplane sitting in San Francisco Harbor. Once inside the plane, we saw how First Class was treated.

San Francisco

Plane Interior

Next we passed by a home in Tokyo and finally traveled along the rooftops of Paris.


After our globe-trotting experience of the 1930's and 40's, we entered the Jet Age. To help us make the transition, an overhead voice asked us to prepare for supersonic flight. As we continued forward, we faced a giant spinning light (think Maelstrom from the Norway Pavilion). Add some fog effects and a couple of fans and it gave the impression we were about to actually enter the inside of a turbo jet engine. All around us were the sounds of jet engines revving up and taking off.

SuperSpeed Tunnel

In the SuperSpeed Tunnel left over from If You Had Wings, guests traveled down a runway and took flight into the clouds. And in what was once the Mirror Room, a computer-generated movie had guests flying above the earth, in a canyon above water, and eventually flying into a futuristic city.

In the final scene, guests were treated to one last pop-up book effect in which a giant page flipped between New York and London. On a nearby wall, a projection of a Delta plane flies by.

Delta Dreamflight was a success and generally well received by guests. However, Delta ended its sponsorship at the end of 1995. But unlike Eastern ending its funding of If You Had Wings, Disney did not immediately remove all references to the carrier. The only noticeable change was in the name. It was now called Dreamflight instead of Delta Dreamflight. This name lasted until early June of 1996. At that time, Delta's moniker was finally erased from the attraction and it reopened as Take Flight on June 5 of that same year. Take Flight lasted until January 1998 when it was shuttered for good.

Many people wax nostalgic at the passing of If You Had Wings and Dreamflight. Both were quintessential Disney attractions and harkened back to a slower period in theme park history. But for the most part, that's not what younger audiences want today. Both of these attractions were wonderful for what they were, but they had seen their day and now it was time for more exciting fare to take their place.

That's it for Part Two. Check back next week when I'll continue my look at Tomorrowland with a look at the Skyway, Star Jets, and the WEDWay PeopleMover.

June 9, 2014

Tomorrowland - Part Three

Jack Spence Masthead

Today I'll be looking at the Skyway, Star Jets, and the WEDWay PeopleMover.

In case you missed the previous parts:

Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight

As I mentioned in Part One of my series about Tomorrowland, this futuristic land was far from complete when the Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971. The Circle-Vision 360 movie America the Beautiful didn't premier until November 25, 1971 and Flight to the Moon opened a month later on December 24. If You Had Wings was a real latecomer debuting on June 5, 1972. In fact, the only Tomorrowland attractions up and running when the Magic Kingdom initially opened were the Gran Prix Raceway and the Skyway.

Gran Prix Raceway Poster

Skyway Poster

The first Disney Skyway opened at Disneyland on June 23, 1956. Walt was so taken by this mode of transportation that he signed an agreement to purchase this attraction from the Von Roll, Ltd. Company without giving any consideration as to where this ride would be located in his park.

Walt thought of the Skyway as more than just a ride. He thought of it as another mode of transportation that could be used to carry people across large parking lots and shopping centers. He wanted to use Disneyland to showcase this idea.

There is a legend that says that part of Walt's inspiration for Disney World came to him while riding the Disneyland Skyway. From the lofty height of sixty feet, he could see outside the park and onto the rush-hour traffic of the Santa Ana Freeway that skirted his property. He knew then that he needed more land so he could shield any future project from the outside world.

There were three Disney Skyways in total, the second opening at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971 (opening day) and the third at Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1983 (also on opening day). All three offered one-way rides between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom's version had the distinction of being the only one that made a turn in the middle of the journey.

It is often reported, incorrectly, that the Magic Kingdom closed the Skyway due to the death of a custodial cast member working on the attraction. Although it is true that Raymond Barlow was accidentally killed while cleaning a narrow Skyway platform, this had nothing to do with the decision to shutter the ride. Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland had both closed their versions of this attraction before this death occurred. The decision to close all of the Skyways was strictly economical. These attractions were old and expensive to run and maintain. Also, they had low capacities. This made it harder and harder to justify on a "dollar spent per guest ride" basis. Combine this with the constant problem of teenagers spitting and throwing things on the guests below and it's not hard to understand why Disney said "Enough." The Magic Kingdom Skyway closed on November 9, 1999.

The Skyway was a perennial favorite of many people. Even though the line was often long, it was worth the wait once we were airborne and looking down on the many sights below. As you passed other gondolas, you would smile and wave to its passengers. And when you could see the terminus station come into view, you grew sad because you knew your flight was almost over.

Tomorrowland Skyway

Tomorrowland Skyway

Although the overall concept for Tomorrowland was pretty much set in concrete from the beginning, it wasn't until sometime in early 1973 that the plans were finalized and this land began to see real growth. For the next two years, construction was an ongoing presence here.

Tomorrowland Concept Drawing

Tomorrowland Under Construction

Walt believed in weenies. A weenie (hotdog) was the "item of interest" that would entice a crowd to move in a certain direction. For example, Cinderella's Golden Carousel was purposely placed directly behind Cinderella Castle to help draw guests into Fantasyland. And the Liberty Square Riverboat Landing was placed directly in line with this land's entrance to help lure people in. Interestingly, Adventureland intentionally did not have a weenie. It was omitted to help make this exotic land more mysterious.

Keeping the weenie concept in mind, the Imagineers knew Tomorrowland would also need something interesting to draw guests into this land of the future -- and the Star Jets filled this bill perfectly. Between this attraction's soaring height and spinning movement, it was precisely what was required to draw guests down the Tomorrowland concourse.

Star Jets

But before we discuss the Magic Kingdom's Star Jets, let's take a look at this attraction's predecessors at Disneyland.

The first space-aged aerial carousel-style ride at Disneyland were the Astro Jets. They officially opened on March 24, 1956. These puppies climbed to the staggering height of 36 feet and traveled in a circle with a 50 foot diameter.

Astro Jets

Astro Jets Poster

Because money was short and Imagineers were busy working on other projects, Walt decided to buy an off-the-shelf carnival ride and have his people spruce it up later. This task fell to Imagineer John Hench. Besides giving the attraction its now familiar red and white checkered pattern, he also decided that each rocket be given a name. These were, Altair, Antares, Arcturus, Canopus, Capella, Castor, Pica, Procyon, Regulus, Rigel, Sirius, Spica, and Vega.

Astro Jets

Astro Jets

If you counted, you found thirteen names. Although no official reason was given as to why there was one more name than needed, Disney historians speculate that the thirteenth name was a "spare" that could be used if one of the rockets needed to be removed and repaired. Those that pay close attention to such things have never found the name "Pica" on an Astro Jet photograph.

When United Airlines began sponsoring The Enchanted Tiki Room, they complained that the name Astro Jets was giving free advertisement to their competitor, American Airlines who offered coast-to-coast Astrojet service to their customers. In order to keep United happy, the attraction's name was changed to Tomorrowland Jets. This designation lasted until September 1966 when the ride was closed to make room for the new and improved Tomorrowland.

The attraction returned to Disneyland on July 2, 1967 with an all-new look. Now called Rocket Jets, this new design in theme park space flight now sat atop the Goodyear PeopleMover and was serviced by two gantry-style elevators. The center pylon no longer had a carnival look, but was instead a stylized replica of a Saturn V rocket. And the ride vehicles were sleek and modern. Rocket Jets remained open until 1997 when they were removed to make ready for another Tomorrowland makeover.

Rocket Jets Poster

Rocket Jets

Rocket Jets

Rocket Jets

Original makeover plans called for this attraction to once again sit atop the PeopleMover, now Rocket Rods Station, but the new design proved too heavy for the structure. The new Astro Orbitor would end up sitting at ground level near the entrance to Tomorrowland.

Astro Orbitor

Okay, now let's get back to the Magic Kingdom of the early 1970's.

As I mentioned before, the Star Jets would be the weenie that drew people into Tomorrowland. But this attraction was just one part of a "triple whammy." Copying Disneyland's successful design, the Imagineers placed a quick-service food stand, the Space Bar, at ground level. The PeopleMover station would sit above the Space Bar. And perched on top of it all would be the Star Jets. This multi-layer designed was created for Disneyland because of space constraints, but it worked so well and fitted the Tomorrowland concept so perfectly, it was repeated in the Magic Kingdom. The Star Jets opened on November 28, 1974.

People Mover and Star Jets

People Mover and Star Jets

Like Disneyland, the Star Jets center pylon resembled a Saturn V rocket. However, the ride vehicles had a completely different design. At Disneyland, guests rode in mini-rockets. But at the Magic Kingdom, guests were seated in a vehicle that more resembled a hovercraft which featured a broader and flatter design, not to mention the sporty back fins.

Astro Orbitor

Star Jets

The Star Jets were suspended approximately 80 feet above the ground and were attached to the center pylon by a 20 foot arm. Each of the 12 vehicles held two passengers with up and down flight controlled by a control stick located near the front of the craft. Riders were treated to 11 rotations per minute and the attraction averaged 1.2 million miles a year. Star Jets required a "D" ticket to ride.

Star Jets and Space Mountain

D Ticket

Sitting directly below Star Jets was the WEDWay PeopleMover. Just like I did with the Star Jets, I need to go back in history and take a look at Disneyland's PeopleMover before discussing the Magic Kingdom's version.

Disneyland PeopleMover Poster

The Disneyland PeopleMover was part of the 1966/67 Tomorrowland makeover. It opened on July 2, 1967. Sponsored by Goodyear, this elevated highway gave guests an overhead preview of all the wonderful adventures that were just waiting to be experienced in the new and old Tomorrowland.

Disneyland PeopleMover

Disneyland PeopleMover

In its day, the PeopleMover was innovative and Walt thought of it as more than just a ride. He felt that the PeopleMover, along with the monorail, could help cities solve problems of congestion and overcrowding. In fact, he was so taken with both of these modes of transportation that they were incorporated into the plans for his future city of EPCOT. In this 1967 concept drawing of EPCOT, you can see both the PeopleMover (left) and the monorail (right).

Epcot Concept Drawing

The queuing process for Disneyland's PeopleMover was unique and innovative. First, guests boarded a speed-ramp (an inclined conveyor belt) for transport to a second level boarding area. At the end of the ramp they were deposited onto a stationary platform, surrounded by a large rotating turntable. Since the inside of a disk moves slower than the outside, it allowed guests an easy transition from the stationary platform to the moving turntable. As they walked to the outer edges of the turntable, their speed gradually increased. This arrangement allowed for better guest safety and improved ride capacity since the cars didn't need to slow down as much in order to be boarded.

Disneyland PeopleMover Queue

The PeopleMover was powered by small rubber tires (made by Goodyear) embedded along the track. Spaced about every nine feet, hundreds of electric motors powered these tiny tires as they pressed against fiberglass epoxy plates positioned on the bottom of the cars. Top speed: six miles per hour. Each train consisted of four cars, holding four passengers each. They were equipped with power doors and an automated roof that tilted out of the way for easier loading and unloading (see above picture). The PeopleMover had an astonishing capacity of 4,600 guests an hour.

Along the nearly one mile route, a cheery narrative was piped into each car, describing the sights along the way while occasionally praising Goodyear. Unlike its future Florida cousin, Disneyland's PeopleMover changed elevation as it circled Tomorrowland. It traveled over the Autopia, through shops, and above the submarine lagoon. It even paralleled the monorail for a short distance.

Disneyland PeopleMover

Disneyland PeopleMover

Disneyland PeopleMover

Now back to the Magic Kingdom.

The WEDWay PeopleMover did not open in Tomorrowland until July 1, 1975, almost four years after the Magic Kingdom had opened. However, it was always intended to be included in this land as can be seen in the picture below taken in January 1972. Even though Tomorrowland is far from complete, the PeopleMover right-of-way is clearly visible on the left and right sides of the picture.

Unfinished Tomorrowland

Magic Kingdom PeopleMover Poster

There were several changes made to the Florida version of this ride from its California counterpart. First, it would not be powered by moving wheels embedded in the track, but rather by linear induction motors. This made for a much smoother ride than at Disneyland. It also allowed for better operation during rainy weather. Second, due to Florida's weather, it was decided that individual roofs over each car would not be sufficient protection from the elements, so the entire track was covered. Another change would be the addition of a fifth car to each train. And as I mentioned earlier, the Magic Kingdom's version traveled at the same elevation throughout its entire journey.

Another change would come with the attraction's name, it would now be called the WEDWay PeopleMover. WED are Walt's initials (Walter Elias Disney). WED Enterprises, or more commonly called "WED," was the creative branch of the Disney Company. This was where all of the Imagineers worked (and played). Eventually, WED was renamed Walt Disney Imagineering (also known as WDI or simply Imagineering).

WEDWay PeopleMover Sign

The original sponsor of the WEDWay PeopleMover was the Edison Electric Institute. This association represents all investor-owned electric companies in the United States. Its members provide electricity for 220 million Americans, operates in 49 states and the District of Columbia, and directly employs more than 500,000 workers today.

Back at Disneyland, the Carousel of Progress was being dismantled so it could be shipped to Florida. On the second floor of the COP building was a large model of Progress City - the prototype for the city of EPCOT. The Imagineers didn't want to destroy this beautiful work of art, yet they had no place to store or display it at Disneyland. It was eventually decided to make it one of the sights seen while riding the new WEDWay PeopleMover in Florida; however, it was much too large in its current state and would need to be cut down dramatically in order to fit into the space available. Believe me, anyone who saw the original model at Disneyland, knows that this resized version pales by comparison.

Progress City

Progress City

Like Disneyland, The WEDWay PeopleMover gave guests a preview of many of the shops and attractions found in Tomorrowland. Along the way, Jack Wagner (the "Voice of Disneyland") provided an ongoing commentary. In June 1985, his narration was replaced by the voice of ORAC One - "The Commuter Computer".

At Disneyland, the PeopleMover just skirted the inside edge of Space Mountain, offering very little to see due to the dark nature of this ride. At the Magic Kingdom, things would be quite different. The WEDWay PeopleMover traveled through the middle of the attraction, giving passengers a fantastic view of astronauts repairing a giant spacecraft.

Space Mountain Interior

The WEDWay PeopleMover traveled just shy of a mile in 10 minutes time at a speed of 6.84 mph. It required a "D" ticket to ride.

That's it for Part Three. Check back next week when I'll be discussing the Carousel of Progress.

June 16, 2014

Tomorrowland - Part Four

Jack Spence Masthead

Welcome back to my Tomorrowland series. Today I'll cover Carousel of Progress.

In case you missed the previous parts:

Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight
Part 3 - Skyway - Star Jets - WEDWay PeopleMover

Many people believe that the Carousel of Progress had its beginnings at the New York World's Fair. But that's not the case. Years before the fair, the General Electric Company's Lamp-Division approached Walt about building an attraction at Disneyland that showcased electricity. Imagineers proposed Edison Square, an offshoot of Main Street. Here, guests would be treated to several tableaus highlighting the advantages of electricity and electric appliances, much like the show today. However, guests would walk from theater to theater. In addition, an "electro-mechanical" man to be named Wilbur K. Watt would host each segment. Unfortunately, technology had not yet caught up with Walt's dreams and the early AudioAnimatronics man did not live up to expectations.

In this next picture you can see an artist's rendering of Edison Square as it was displayed on souvenir maps of the late 50's and early 60's. Although you can't make out the text, it reads:

Diorama of Inventions
American Home Pre-Electricity
American Home Advent of Electricity
Contemporary Living
The Electric Age

Edison Square

In the end, Edison Square was never realized. However, Imagineers are fond of saying "No good idea ever goes unused."

The 1964/1965 New York World's Fair was envisioned by several businessmen who fondly remembered their experiences years earlier at the first New York World's Fair which ran from 1939 to 1940. They wanted to recreate this exhibition on a much grander scale for their children and grandchildren. However, an undertaking of this magnitude required someone experienced at raising large amounts of money and getting things done on schedule, so they turned to Robert Moses. Moses was an influential player in the growth of New York City from the 1930's to the 1950's. He was responsible for the construction of much of the city's highway infrastructure and, as Parks Commissioner, the creation of many of the city's parks.

It's interesting to note, the 1964 New York World's Fair was never sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions. Because of this, major governments such as France, Germany, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada chose not to be represented. Most of the nations that did participate did so under tourism and industrial sponsorship.

Since the fair would not benefit from governmental financing, Moses needed to find other sources to fill his pavilions. Having heard glowing reports about Disneyland, he flew to California to meet with Walt. Upon his arrival, Walt asked Moses if he'd like to be introduced to Mr. Lincoln. After shaking hands with an early AudioAnimatronics figure of the sixteenth president, Moses insisted that Walt and Abe be a part of the fair.

The idea for Edison Square resurfaced with the impending fair. The concept was reexamined and possibilities explored. Eventually, the attraction was renamed "Progressland" to coincide with GE's current marketing slogan, "Progress is our most important product." In addition, Walt insisted that his Imagineers figure out a way to incorporate his new AudioAnimatronics into the attraction.


At the fair, Progressland was housed in a large, three-story domed structure. The dome was made up of crisscrossing tubular steel girders. Not only did this design facilitate relatively quick construction, it would also be easy to dismantle after the fair for salvage.

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

Guests entered Progressland on the first floor and rode an escalator to the second. Here they arrived at one of six theaters that revolved around a central core of six stages. After getting settled and the overture played, the theater rotated 60 degrees to view the first of four vignettes. This stop brought us to a typical American household of the late 1890's (if you were rich). A gentleman (Father) is sitting comfortably in the kitchen, pipe and newspaper in hand. It's springtime and life is good. For the next four and a half minutes, Father introduces us to his family (wife Sara, daughter Jane, his son, grandma and grandpa, and cousin Orville) and tells us all about the marvels of the age. At the conclusion, the theater once again rotates and brings us to the 1920's. Once again, Father is sitting in the kitchen and explains to the audience how wonderful life is, much of it due to electricity. "General Electric" is mentioned in each vignette and the name is prominently displayed on the appliances. After the 20's we visit the 40's, then the 60's where Father continues to educate us about life in each era. Every rotation advanced us 20 years. This unique theater could accommodate 3,600 guests per hour.

To help the transition between sets, a song was needed. Walt turned to Richard and Robert Sherman and presented them with the task. He told them that he needed a tune that was essentially a commercial jingle. It needed to be short, catchy, and upbeat. And it also needed to lend itself to various styles such as ragtime and swing to blend with the various eras depicted in the show. It took the brothers a couple of weeks and when they thought they had what Walt was looking for, they invited him to their office to hear their new song. When they were done, Walt said, "That will work fine." From Walt, this was high praise.

Richard and Roger Sherman

After viewing the last vignette of the show, the theater rotated once again. Guests left their seats and took an escalator to the third floor and the Sky-Dome Spectacular. This show, projected on a 200-foot-wide overhead screen, chronicled man's struggle to harness nature and discover new forms of energy. At the films conclusion, guests moved to a new location where they were treated to a demonstration all about the creation of nuclear fusion " "The greatest science display at the fare."

New York World's Fair

New York World's Fair

From the Sky-Dome, guests returned to the first floor and were free to tour the all-electric wonders of Medallion City. Here, they continued to witness the advancements electricity had brought to their lives and communities.

New York World's Fair

At the fair's conclusion on October 17th, 1965, 51 million people had visited. This figure is considered respectable for an exhibition of this nature, but attendance was actually 20% lower than projected. During the fair's two year run, Progressland was one of the most visited pavilions (up to 45,000 per day). In the end, the fair lost large amounts of money and allegations of gross mismanagement were levied. Today, because of its "unofficial" nature, the fair is often overlooked by historians when the subject of World Fairs is bantered about. However, the fair greatly benefitted Walt Disney.

From the very beginning, Walt planned on bringing Progressland and his other World's Fair exhibits back to Disneyland. In essence, he was able to get outside organizations to fund the research, development, and construction of his attractions. But the fair helped Walt in other ways. In the early years, Disneyland's Tomorrowland was lacking. But with the addition of Progressland, now to be called Carousel of Progress (CoP), Walt could persuade other companies to sponsor attractions in his Anaheim park. Goodyear signed on to sponsor the PeopleMover and both McDonnell-Douglas and Monsanto agreed to greatly upgrade their existing attractions.

In 1967, an all-new Tomorrowland debuted at Disneyland. For the first time, this land truly demonstrated Walt's vision of the future and attendance soared. Unfortunately, Walt never saw this wonderful expansion completed as he died on December 15, 1966.

New Tomorrowland

Although a new building was needed at Disneyland to house CoP, the props and AA figures arrived from New York virtually intact. However, the show would be tweaked slightly. First, all references to GE's now defunct "Medallion Home" advertising campaign were discarded. Mother's voice was rerecorded. Father moved from a bench to a barstool in the 1940's kitchen. The final, Christmas scene was updated slightly. And the Sky-Dome Spectacular became history. The attraction opened at Disneyland on July 2, 1967.

Carousel of Progress Poster

Carousel of Progress Building

Father, the star of the show, was voiced by Rex Allen at the World's Fair and Disneyland. Allen was a western film actor, singer, and songwriter. In his later years, he narrated a number of Disney nature films and television shows.

Since CoP was a blatant advertisement for General Electric, it was decided that guests shouldn't be required to relinquish a ticket (what would have been an "E" ticket) to see the show. This added greatly to its popularity. Other free attractions at the time were Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (presented by Lincoln Savings and Loan), Adventures thru Inner Space (presented by Monsanto), and America the Beautiful (in Circle-Vision) presented by AT&T.

After getting settled in the first theater of CoP, an on-stage curtain rose to reveal a wall of textured plastic called "Kaleidophonic Screens." As Father voice welcomed us aboard, colored lights, behind the plastic, blinked and changed with his narrative. In the 1960's, this was an impressive sight.

The story began in the late 1890's. Father opens Act 1 by saying "Well, the robins are back. That's a sure sign of spring." In this version of CoP, each act represented a different season, spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

CoP Act 1

In Act 1, Father tells us of the modern conveniences they enjoy such as gas lamps, telephones, and the latest design in cast iron stoves. Their ice box holds 50 pounds of ice and Rover keeps the drip pan from overflowing. It's interesting to note, the dog had a different name in each scene, Rover, Buster, and Sport.

In a segment of Act 1, mother Sara can be seen ironing. Next to her is a young girl operating the "wash day marvel." This character is not part of the family nor is she ever introduced or mentioned. Over the years, many have speculated as to her identity, but a positive answer eludes us.

"Hottest summer we've had in years," was how Father opened Act 2. This line was keeping in the theme of "seasons."

CoP Act 2

Cousin Orville is also introduced in Act 2. Orville's only line, "No privacy at all around this place," was voiced by Mel Blanc. Blanc is most remembered for voicing many of the Warner Brothers' characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam.

Walt was extremely involved with the design of CoP. Originally, the Imagineers had Orville's back facing the audience. When Walt saw this, he knew better. He turned the tub around, took off his shoes and socks, and jumped into the tub. Then he said to the Imagineers, "He'd wiggle his toes, don't you think?"

Cousin Orville

Father opens Act 3 by saying, "Well, it's autumn again and the kids are back in school."

CoP Act 3

Act 4 begins with Jingle Bells playing in the background and Mother and Father wishing us merry Christmas.

In Acts 1, 2, and 3, Mother was portrayed as the typical American, hardworking housewife. Her sole lot in life was to take care of the home which required copious amounts of effort. In Act 4, the Imagineers wanted to show how electricity and modern appliances had liberated the "little woman." To demonstrate her new found freedom, she talks incessantly, barely allowing Father a word in edgewise. However, it's very clear that she's still the "typical American housewife." The appliances are hers, not Fathers. And it's Mother, not Father, who is cooking Christmas dinner. And with her new-found liberation from drudgery she has time for activities like the gardening club, the literary society, and the ladies bowling league. The idea of Mother getting a job in the 1960's was unheard of.

If you looked out the window in Act 4, you could see a familiar sight, Progress City. This would be given greater attention in Act 5.

CoP Act 4

As Act 4 concluded, the theater rotated once again. When it came to a stop, a speed-ramp, not a stage, lay before us. Guests were asked to get out of their seats and proceed to the second floor to be reunited with Mother and Father and view Progress City.

Progress City

Progress City was a grand model. It was built to 1/8 scale and was 160 feet wide. It had 22,000 scale shrubs and trees, 4,500 structures (lit from within), and 1,400 working streetlights. Many of the trains, PeopleMovers, and automobiles actually moved. This was an impressive sight. Progress City was Walt's model for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

While viewing Progress City, Father and Mother highlighted some of its virtues, including the new GE nuclear power plant located nearby. Father also mentions their local amusement park to which mother says, "It's not exactly Disneyland, but it is clean and bright and lots of fun."

Guests exited CoP on the second floor and traveled down a long ramp to ground level.

Disneyland CoP

Carousel of Progress attendance began to wane at Disneyland in the early 70's. General Electric believed that 80% of the people who saw the show were from California and felt their advertising dollars could be better spent elsewhere. They asked Disney if they'd be willing to move the show to Florida and the company agreed. CoP closed at Disneyland on September 9, 1973. Today, the Disneyland Carousel Theater is home to Innoventions and uses a stylized rendition of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as its theme song.

When CoP moved from New York to California, only minor changes were made to the attraction. That would not be the case for the move to Florida. For the most part, the sets and AudioAnimatronics figures remained the same, but other changes would be more significant. The first noticeable difference was the building. At the World's Fair it was three stories high. At Disneyland, it was two stories. But at the Magic Kingdom it would only be one story with a loft large enough for the PeopleMover to pass by comfortably. In addition, the carousel now rotated counterclockwise rather than clockwise. Guests would also enter and exit on the first floor. Here is an early picture of CoP at the Magic Kingdom. Notice the blue and white stripes on the building.

Magic Kingdom CoP

General Electric had also tired of the song "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." They didn't want to encourage their customers to "wait" for the future before they bought their appliances. They wanted them to buy them "now." So the Sherman brothers were brought back on board and they composed "The Best Time of Your Life" or as it is also known, "Now is the Time."

CoP opened at the Magic Kingdom on January 15, 1975. Space Mountain also opened on this same day. The sets for the first three acts closely resembled the original, but an all-new fourth act displayed an updated Christmas scene. In addition, Andrew Duggan now voiced Father. In 1981, the fourth act was updated once again to reflect a 1980's home.

Horizons, opened at Epcot on October 1, 1983 and was sponsored by General Electric. GE also was sponsoring the nighttime spectacular Illuminations. So when their ten year contract for CoP expired on March 10, 1985, they chose not to renew. The attraction closed briefly so all references to General Electric could be removed. The GE logo was replaced with a logo that showed a stylized blueprint of the six carousel theaters surrounding the six fixed stages.

New CoP Marquee

New CoP Logo

It's interesting to note, references to "General Electric" and "Hotpoint" can still be seen on several of the appliances today.

That's it for Part Four of my Tomorrowland series. Check back next week when I'll be discussing Space Mountain and the Grand Prix Raceway.

June 23, 2014

Tomorrowland - Part Five

Jack Spence Masthead

Thanks for joining me for Part Five of my Tomorrowland series.
In case you missed the previous parts:

Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight
Part 3 - Skyway - Star Jets - WEDWay PeopleMover
Part 4 - Carousel of Progress.

Today I'll be discussing Space Mountain and the Grand Prix Raceway. As a reminder, so far I've only discussed the "old" Tomorrowland. So if I don't answer all of your questions about these two attractions today, chances are I will in parts six through eight when I describe the "new" Tomorrowland.


After the success of the Matterhorn, Walt realized that his team of Imagineers could create themed coasters that would be appropriate for his park. So when planning began for Disneyland's new Tomorrowland in the early 1960's, he approached John Hench with an idea for a "Space Port" anchored by a futuristic coaster. Hench came back with an idea similar in concept to the Matterhorn, another indoor/outdoor coaster. By 1966, the name had evolved from Space Port to "Space Mountain."

Space Mountain Concept Drawing

Space Mountain Concept Drawing

Space Mountain Concept Drawing

Original ideas for Space Mountain called for the attraction to have four separate tracks. However, the technology of the day did not allow for this nor was there enough land in Tomorrowland for a structure large enough to house this many trajectories. Further setbacks came to the mountain when the Disney Company decided to move forward with Disney World and vast amounts of money were now being funneled into this new project. Ultimately, Space Mountain was scrapped from Disneyland's expansion plans and was put on hold for a later date. Disneyland's new Tomorrowland opened in 1967 without a major thrill ride. Space Mountain would not premiere here for another ten years and finally opened May 27, 1977, two years after the one at the Magic Kingdom. If you study the next piece of concept art closely, you can see that Space Mountain is missing (upper-right side of the picture). By the way, I was chosen to be one of the two official hosts for the Disneyland Space Mountain press event to open this attraction.

Tomorrowland Concept Drawing

Although people loved the new Magic Kingdom in Florida, it became obvious early on that the park needed some thrill rides to appeal to teens and young adults. A second Matterhorn was considered for Fantasyland, but there wasn't enough room for it. The Imagineers then focused their attention to the unfinished Tomorrowland and old Space Mountain plans were dusted off. Here is an early concept drawing for the Florida version of this attraction.

Space Mountain Concept Drawing

Literally hundreds of outside companies were contracted to help build Walt Disney World and one of these was RCA. RCA was charged with providing the communications hardware for the resort. As is tradition, Disney is always looking for other companies to help fund their attractions. To that end, the contract between Disney and RCA also called for Disney to present any appropriate rides to RCA for future sponsorship consideration. When planning resumed on Space Mountain, it seemed like a perfect fit and Disney CEO Card Walker persuaded RCA Chairman Robert Sarnoff to fund Space Mountain for a mere $10 million.

As with any attraction, Space Mountain went through a number of changes during the design process. One early plan called for the attraction to be placed near Carousel of Progress, in approximately the same spot as Disneyland's copy. But by the time the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, plans had been finalized and called for Space Mountain to be placed due west of Cinderella Castle, outside the park-encompassing WDW Railroad. This placement necessitated the building of a tunnel that would take guests under the train tracks to reach the loading area. The help make an otherwise boring walk more interesting, the Star Corridor was created. This consisted of star fields and spacecraft displayed behind convex windows which warped their shapes as you passed by. This tunnel also allowed guests' eyes to acclimate to the darkness before boarding.

Overhead View of Space Mountain

Star Corridor

Star Corridor

Other plans called for a Tomorrowland Station for the WDW Railroad. However, it was decided that the close proximity to Space Mountain would cause too much congestion in the area and the idea was scuttled. Today, the Storybook Circus railroad station acts as the jumping off point for both Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. This station did not exists when the Magic Kingdom initially opened. It was added in 1989 as part of the Mickey's Birthdayland celebration.

Storybook Circus Station

Another idea that was dismissed was the indoor/outdoor track system that was used on the Matterhorn. It was decided that an all-indoor attraction gave the Imagineers better control over the inky-dark environment they wanted to create. Thus, Space Mountain would become the world's first all-indoor roller coaster.

Space Mountain Track

Space Mountain stands 183 feet above ground, has a diameter of 300 feet, and a volume of 4,508,500 cubic feet. The basic structure of the mountain is composed of 72 massive pre-stressed concrete beams resting on inner and outer circular platforms. Each of the 74-ton concrete beams was cast near the Space Mountain site and then hoisted into place by mammoth cranes. Each beam is 117 feet long, 13 feet wide at the bottom, and 4 feet wide at the top.

Space Mountain Under Construction

Space Mountain Under Construction

Space Mountain Under Construction

Construction took approximately two years and the ride officially opened to guests on January 15, 1975. Although the hoped for four track system was not realized in the Magic Kingdom's version of Space Mountain, two tracks (Alpha and Omega) were constructed. The space voyages presented are almost mirror images of each other with one side offering 3,186 feet of thrills and the other 3,196 feet. The ride takes approximately two and a half minutes.

Grand Opening Event

Acceleration Tube

RCY Pylon

Space Mountain Poster

In the early years, the seating configuration for Space Mountain was modeled after the Matterhorn's. Each rocket only had two seats and passengers 3 and 4 were expected to sit "in the lap" of passengers 1 and 2. This can be seen in the first two pictures below. This seating arrangement lasted until 1989 when a third seat was added to each rocket and lap sitting eliminated. Although this technically reduced capacity, it made loading and unloading quicker. It also made guests much happier. Picture three below shows the new 3-seat configuration. You can also see the older "square" lap bars in this photo. These lap bars were later replaced with a "T" configuration that allows for more legroom (forth picture).

Two-Seat Configuration

Two-Seat Configuration

Three-Seat Configuration

New Lap Bar

To exit Space Mountain, guests once again had to travel the length of the structure to arrive back in Tomorrowland. However, the return trip was facilitated by a moving ramp. Along the way people were treated to RCA's "Home of Future Living." This journey took them passed a futuristic home complete with patio, nursery, family room, a recreation room, front door, kitchen, young girl's bedroom, and finally an entertainment center. Each room had sharply angled walls and was connected to the next by a stairway. And every room had a rudimentary AA figure using some sort of audio-visual device. For example, a female member of the household was taking a pottery class via a 2-way TV. The baby's activities in the nursery were monitored by a closed-circuit television. And a young girl and boy watched a football game on a wall-sized screen. In the background, the forgettable song "Here's to the Future" played. In a way, this collection of tableaux was a less sophisticated version of Horizons.

After passing these scenes, guests discovered another AA character pointing a video camera at them. Ahead, nine suspended TV monitors broadcast images of those passing by on the Speedramp.

Of course, RCA manufactured consumer electronics and they wanted to showcase what their products could do for you. After all, they had paid $10M to sponsor this attraction.

Over the next ten years, scenes were modified slightly, but the overall presentation stayed pretty much intact. It wasn't until the completion of a major rehab in late 1985 that things change significantly in this area. For the most part, the Home of Future Living had been removed and replaced by surreal depictions of a faraway planet. The exhibit was called RYCA-1. It was the Imagineers' intention that guests witness what life would be like living on a distant space colony. These scenes remain somewhat intact to this day.

Space Colony

Space Colony

Space Colony

Space Colony

RCA decided to end their sponsorship in 1993 and FedEx took over the next year. With this change in funding, cosmetic changes were made throughout the attraction and FexEx's logo was prominently added wherever possible. The post show scenes were also given a new storyline. Now guests could witness FedEx "beaming" packages to remote regions of the galaxy.

FedEx Pylon

FedEx Beaming Shipping

This completes my look at Space Mountain for the time being. Now let's take a visit to the Grand Prix Raceway.

To fully understand the Gran Prix Raceway (now Tomorrowland Speedway), you need to understand history. And not just Disney history, you need to be aware of what was happening in the world during the Magic Kingdom's planning stage. But in order to do that, we must first go back to Disneyland's humble beginnings.

Los Angeles was a pioneer in building superhighways. In 1940, the first freeway in the United States opened between Los Angeles and Pasadena. From that point on, more and more freeways were added to the area. Soon, Southern California and automobiles became synonymous.

The Santa Ana Freeway, the main route from Los Angeles to Anaheim and Orange County, was not completed until 1956. This meant that Walt was forced to take many surface streets to reach Disneyland from Burbank during the park's construction. Walt was a firm believer that technology could solve the problems of the world and the Interstate System was a step in the right direction. In addition, this new system of roads would improve his own commute and that of the future tourist who would visit Disneyland. It's interesting to note, many of the trees and shrubs of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise came from the land being cleared for the Santa Ana Freeway.

Walt wanted his Tomorrowland to showcase a bright and beautiful tomorrow. And the burgeoning Interstate System was a shining beacon to that end. Kiddie-cars and bumper cars had been a staple of carnivals and fairs for years, but Walt wanted to do something more inspiring. Thus, the Autopia was born. Autopia is the combination of the words Automobile and Utopia.

The Autopia was to be a miniature version of the Interstate System. It would highlight just how efficient this new transportation system would be. It would have overpasses and underpasses, straightaways and gradual curves. Its appearance would mirror that of the Los Angeles system. It would even have a cloverleaf design.

Autopia Poster

The Autopia was also intended to be a training ground for young drivers. With high speed travel now available to everyone, Walt wanted to provide a safe environment for kids to learn how to navigate this new roadway responsibly.

During the Autopia testing period, 36 miniature cars were turned over to the children of Studio personnel. Within 10 days, the fleet was reduced to 6. The kids had no desire to learn how to drive responsibly. They wanted to crash into one another. To remedy the problem, a whole-vehicle, spring-loaded bumper was installed around the entire car.

In the early years, there were no guiderails down the middle of the Autopia highway. Kids actually steered the cars and could easily hit the curbs on either side of the road. There were even wide spots in the road where the young motorists could drive side-by-side and even pass one another. Of course this did not add to the longevity of the cars (or the curbs) and in 1965 the infamous guiderail was added. Kids could still steer their vehicle, but their maneuverability was greatly reduced.

No Guide Rails

By the time planning had begun for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the Interstate System was old hat and less than exciting. Yet the Imagineers knew they wanted to offer young drivers a place to feel the freedom of the road. Thus, the Grand Prix Raceway was born. Rather than have a two-lane highway, this "international" course would feature racecars that "competed" side-by-side along a multi-lane speedway. Although this racecar theme really didn't fit with the grand scope of Tomorrowland, it was logically the only place this attraction would fit in the park.

Beginning in 1967, Goodyear sponsored the PeopleMover at Disneyland. When asked if they would be willing to sponsor an attraction at the Magic Kingdom, they were interested. But since the Florida version of the PeopleMover would not be opening until 1975 and the ride would be using linear induction motors to transport the cars (not rubber tires), this attraction was not a good match. However, the Grand Prix Raceway would be the perfect vehicle to showcase Goodyear tires.

Grand Prix Raceway

In this early publicity photo, you can see "Goodyear" emblazoned on the side of the race car.

Goofy In The Drivers Seat

Below is the opening day attraction poster. Notice is says Gran (not Grand) Prix Raceway. Also notice the poster is almost identical to the Disneyland Autopia poster of 1956 (see above). We even see the same father and son passengers racing along the highway. Only the vehicle has changed. The Magic Kingdom poster displays a souped-up sports car.

Gran Prix Poster

In 1978 a new poster was unveiled. Inspired by the 1966 movie poster "Grand Prix" (a film partially sponsored by Goodyear), the new artwork had a more hip and updated look. Later, when Goodyear dropped its sponsorship of the Grand Prix Raceway, the poster was changed ever so slightly. Only the name "Goodyear" was omitted and the Tomorrowland lettering changed colors.

Grand Prix Poster

Grand Prix Movie Poster

Goodyear also provided young drivers with affiliation to the "Grand Prix Racing Team." The membership card which was presented to guests after finishing the course was signed by Russell de Young, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

Grand Prix Racing Team

When riding the Tomorrowland Speedway, you may have noticed an enclosed viewing area perched above the loading area. This was the Goodyear lounge where company executives could entertain clients and show off their attraction.

Grand Stand Viewing Area

These next two pictures were taken in January, 1972. Notice how barren the attraction looks.

Old Speedway Track

Old Speedway Track

In 1973, the ride was expanded slightly. Then in 1987, the roadway was shortened to make room for Mickey's Birthdayland which would open the following year. This area would later be remodeled and renamed Mickey's Starland. More refurbishments brought about Mickey's ToonTown Fair. And now Storybook Circus.

Below is an approximation of how much track was eliminated to accommodate Mickey's Birthdayland.

Old Speedway Track

In 1994, Tomorrowland began a major makeover. The sterile concrete look of the future was giving way to a retro design. Check back next week when I'll begin discussing how this renovation changed the Grand Prix Raceway and the other attractions found in the land of the future.

June 30, 2014

Tomorrowland - Part Six

Jack Spence Masthead

Over the last five weeks, I've provided you with a history of the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland up until 1994.

In case you missed the previous parts:

Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight
Part 3 - Skyway - Star Jets - WEDWay PeopleMover
Part 4 - Carousel of Progress.
Part 5 - Space Mountain and the Grand Prix Raceway

Today I'm going to take a look at this futuristic land from that date forward. But before I do this, let's take a look back at Disneyland in its infancy.

The original Tomorrowland at Disneyland was supposed to represent the date 1986, the year Halley's Comet would return. Long before 1986 arrived, this land received a major makeover and reopened in 1967 with an all-new vision of the future.

Shortly before Disneyland's remodeled Tomorrowland debuted, planning had begun on the Magic Kingdom's version of this land. In many ways, the ideas, concepts, and architecture mirrored its West Coast cousin. Yet both Tomorrowlands would soon be experiencing the same problem. They would become "Todayland" and soon "Yesterdayland." Technology was greatly outpacing Disney's ability to keep up with the times, not to mention their budget.

When planning began for Disneyland Paris, the Imagineers knew they needed to address this problem. Although Michael Eisner was originally against their plans, they eventually convinced him to create Discoveryland rather than another Tomorrowland. This new concept would feature many of the same attractions found at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, but with a new theme. Instead of a futuristic look at tomorrow, they would look back in time and create worlds envisioned by HG Wells and Jules Verne. In other words, they would create timeless architecture that didn't need to be remodeled or replaced every ten years.





By the late 1980's, the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland had become Yesterdayland. Peoplemovers could be found in airports, rendering the one found here commonplace. Space travel had become routine making Mission to Mars a ho-hum attraction. Jet travel was an everyday happening rendering Dreamflight a bore. And the CircleVision 360 movie did not excite the younger generation. Not to mention, the architecture was in many ways similar to Future World over at Epcot. Something needed to be done.

The Imagineers' first thoughts were to create another Discoveryland. However, Euro Disney was hemorrhaging the company's pocketbooks at that time and a less expensive alternative needed to be found. To that end, they came up with an idea for a futuristic city. One that might have existed in the novels, movies, and comic books of the 1920's and 30's. And the name for this futuristic city would be "Tomorrowland." Tomorrowland would be the interplanetary hub for space travelers and the home of the League of Planets.

(Have you ever wondered why only half of Tomorrowland received an extensive makeover? You can blame Disneyland Paris.)

One of the first things to be removed from the old Tomorrowland were the tall spires that flanked the entrance. These would be replaced with an elaborate sign announcing the arrival to this space port.

Old Tomorrowland Entrance

Old Tomorrowland Entrance

Old Tomorrowland Entrance

Old Tomorrowland Entrance

The next change to the entrance would be the addition of rock formations that look somewhat otherworldly. Nestled into this landscape are a couple of nondescript structures. We're not quite sure if they are spacecraft, futuristic dwellings, or some type of machinery.

Tomorrowland Rocks

Tomorrowland Rocks

Space Stuff

Space Stuff

Embedded in the pavement are images of gears and sprockets. These help tell the story of a futuristic city as seen by visionaries of the past. This was a time when great thinkers could not imagine transistors, circuit boards, or wifi. They couldn't bring their minds out of the machine age.

Tomorrowland Pavement.jpg

Tomorrowland Pavement

Tomorrowland Pavement

As with all good cities, Tomorrowland has a signpost announcing the many service organizations found in their community. At the top of the signpost are the following words, "The future that never was, is finally here."

Some of the service signs read:






Tomorrowland Sign Post

Also near the entrance to this fine city are several posters advertising the convention facilities and some of the special events currently taking place in nearby venues. This first poster advertises the Tomorrowland Towers Hover-Hotel. The fine print tells us that they offer gravity and antigravity suites, helpful robot valets, easy access landing pads, and more.

Tomorrowland Towers Hover-Hotel

This next poster is promoting the Space Home & Garden Show. Attending this event will educate you in the areas of interplanetary timeshare options, instant flower and vegetable gardens, and undersea townhouse communities.

Space Home & Garden Show

Currently appearing in town is Leonard Burnedstar. He is conducting the Martian Pops Orchestra. Tonight's performance includes "The Opus Outer Space Concerto in Ursa Minor." Special guest stars include Sirius, Centauri, and Procyon.

Leonard Burnedstar

Over at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café we see that Sonny Eclipse is headlining. We also learn that the Starlight Café is the first Earth restaurant franchise from outer space.

Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café

There are a few other posters in this area. Be sure to check them out and read the small print. They really help tell the backstory of Tomorrowland.

The most significant changes to Tomorrowland can be seen along the entrance corridor. The first picture below is an artist rendering of Tomorrowland's main thoroughfare. The second is a picture I took recently. I'd say the architects and construction engineers did a pretty good job of capturing the Imagineers' ideas.

Tomorrowland Concept Drawing

Tomorrowland Today

Here are a few more pictures of this area. Keep in mind when viewing them, this area is supposed to represent a futuristic city as seen through the eyes of visionaries of the 1920's and 30's. Also try to remember how symmetrical the old Tomorrowland was. The buildings along this corridor were almost mirror images of each other. Today, they are anything but.

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

Current Tomorrowland

As I mentioned in Part One of this series, the Mission to Mars attraction was showing its age by the late 1980's and sophisticated audiences were abandoning it for more high tech fare over at EPCOT Center's Future World. Mr. Johnson welcomed his last passengers at the Magic Kingdom on October 4, 1993.

When Michael Eisner joined Disney as CEO in 1984, the company was creating bland movies and bland theme park attractions. The younger generation was keenly aware of this and was abandoning Disney for more edgy fare. Michael recalls a story where he overheard a teenage boy lament that he couldn't wait until he was an adult so he could come to the Disney parks with his kids. In other words, Disney wasn't cool unless it was being enjoyed by small children and their parents. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter would be one of the ways Eisner would try and combat this problem.

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

As I mentioned earlier, Tomorrowland was being transformed into a hub for interplanetary space travelers and the home to the League of Planets. The space left vacant by Mission to Mars would become the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center and play host to various exhibits and shows. Mention of this venue and an upcoming event can be seen on a nearby sign advertising a Space Collectibles Convention.

Space Collectibles Convention

When guests arrived in the refurbished Tomorrowland, they found that an off-planet consumer company, X-S Tech (Excess Tech), was currently using the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center and giving demonstrations.

X-S Tech

ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, or simply Alien Encounter, first opened on December 16, 1994. Soon after, Guest Relations received many complaints about the attraction. People felt that the lighthearted preshow did not adequately prepare the audience for the frightening nature of the main presentation. In addition, the storyline was difficult to follow because unrelenting screams drowned out the show. This prompted Eisner to close Alien Encounter for a reworking. After minor and major changes, it reopened on June 20, 1995.

The experience began in a holding area outside the Convention Center. Two metal doors would soon grant us access to the center's lobby. Above the doors was a plaque with the following words:


The galaxy's #1 authority in technological innovation invites you to experience its latest achievement


This exhibition is made possible by the TOMORROWLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Alien Encounter Entrance

Alien Encounter Entrance

In the lobby, several futuristic television monitors were mounted overhead. While waiting to be welcomed by our host, these displayed other events taking place at the Convention Center. Some of these included:




Soon these advertisements were replaced with the face of an alien woman (played by Tyra Banks). She welcomed us to today's demonstration and gave us a brief history of X-S Tech.

"We began many galactic years ago on a world quite distant from your own. From one small manufacturing plant, we've grown into the largest consumer-oriented research and development company in the universe. X-S Tech is number one in Electro Robotics, Cryo Cybernetics, Techno Surveillance, Planetary Restructuring, Genetic Engineering, and Hyperspatial Transport."

X-S Tech

We were then introduced to L.C. Clench (played by Jeffrey Jones), the current chairman of X-S Tech. He told us that his market research had discovered earth and its many eager customers. He went on to assure us that his company only wanted to help less fortunate planets and profits were a byproduct that they have had to learn to live with. He ended his speech with these chilling words: "If something can't be done with X-S then it shouldn't be done at all."

As the light levels rose, another set of automatic doors opened and guests proceeded to the first observation area. Here we met Skippy, a cuddly six-legged creature with a protruding nose. We also met S.I.R. which we soon learned stood for Simulated Intelligence Robotics.

S.I.R. and Skippy

With an arrogantly evil tone, S.I.R. (voiced by Tim Curry) explained to us how he would painlessly transport Skippy from a chamber on the left side of the room to another on the right. S.I.R. then began pushing buttons and Skippy vanished into a cloud of smoke while in the background we heard his painful screams. When Skippy rematerialized in the second chamber, we saw that his fur was singed, his eyes were rolling, and sparks were arcing from his antenna. S.I.R. then said, "Oh, shut up, scruffy! You're not burned; you've just got a healthy glow."

S.I.R. next told us that the process could be reversed and pressed another button. Skippy again disappeared, but this time did not reappear in the first chamber. S.I.R. informed us that Skippy could be suspended" indefinitely.

With the demonstration complete, we moved to the main convention area for a larger example of the teleportation process. This time, L.C. Clench would be teleported from his home planet to Earth where he would be able to meet with all of us in person. Of course, things went horribly wrong and instead of transporting Clench, a carnivorous monster was thrust upon us. For the next several minutes our sense of sight was greatly reduced or non-existent as the creature flew around the room, walked on the backs of our chairs, breathed on our necks, and actually touched us with his tongue. We heard blood-curdling screams and bones crunching. We were even splattered with monster guts during the terrifying finale. The experience was truly frightening.

Alien Encounter

Alien Encounter

Each theatre held 162 guests and the entire presentation from the outer lobby to the finale was 18 minutes in length.

Many of these effects could be generated by the use of a new chair. Once seated, an "analysis module" lowered and surrounded our upper body. Within this analysis module was a state-of-the-art sound system that created crystal clear sound effects. Sub-woofers were positioned within the seat base. And more speakers were located around the room. Also found in the analysis module were the effects that allowed us to feel the creature's breath and suffer the touch of his tongue.

Alien Encounter Chair

Most teenagers and adults enjoyed Alien Encounter. It even had a cult following among some guests. They felt it was a refreshing change from the lighter fare offered in the rest of the Magic Kingdom. However, many parents had a different take on the attraction.

Disney posted numerous warning signs outside Alien Encounter telling parents that this attraction was not suitable for children under the age of twelve. Eventually, they forbid children under the age of seven or shorter than 48 inches tall from the show entirely. Cast members also did their best to dissuade those with little ones from entering. Yet parents continually ignored the warnings and took their kids where they had no business being. Numerous parents could not believe the Disney would create an attraction that wasn't suitable for the entire family. Many a child left Alien Encounter in tears and too terrified to ride any other attraction. Vacations were ruined.

After eight years of complaints, Disney had had enough and closed Alien Encounter on October 12, 2003. I, for one, was sad to see it go.

When Disney spends a truckload of money on an attraction, they hope to get more than eight years use out of it. So when the Imagineers started brainstorming for a replacement idea, they wanted to come up with something that could reuse as much of the existing structure and hardware as possible. They were also looking for an attraction that would appeal to younger children. Thus, "Stitch's Great Escape" was born and opened on November 16, 2004.

Stitch's Great Escape

Stitch's Great Escape

To accommodate this attraction, the backstory of Tomorrowland had to be altered somewhat. This building is no longer the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center but rather the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center. This can be seen on a plaque above the main entrance doors of this attraction.

Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center

Once inside the building, guests see the same bank of television monitors that were used in Alien Encounter (tweaked minimally). When they are activated, we are informed by the Grand Councilwoman and Captain Gantu that we have been recruited to be guards in the Galactic Federation.

The characters here are animated in the "flat" 2D style as was the movie "Lilo & Stitch." I understand the logic of this. It creates continuity. But in today's environment where characters are given a fuller, three-dimensional look (and are actually projected in 3D), these individuals look cartoonish.

Overhead TV Monitors

Grand Councilwoman and Captain Ganto

When the initial orientation ends, we move to another briefing room where Sergeant C4703BK2704-90210 ("Sarge" voiced by Richard Kind) furthers our galactic prisoner education. Skippy is also present in chamber one.

Somehow Sarge looks suspiciously like S.I.R., only with a new mouth, chin and eyes hidden behind large glasses. He is also dressed in some sort of galactic law enforcement uniform to hide his former body.


Where S.I.R. was sinister, Sarge is an imbecile. The Imagineers created this character to lighten the mood and promote a comical situation. And Richard Kind's voice is a perfect match for Sarge's personality.

During this second briefing, a Level 1 criminal is captured. Referred to as "The Donut Guy," he was apprehended for sucking all of the jelly out of jelly donuts. He is then beamed into the empty chamber onstage. Sarge scolds him and tells him he will be sent to his cell, this time with no milk. Once again, the similarity between the singed Skippy from Alien Encounter and The Donut Guy is remarkable.

Captain Gantu interrupts this encounter to tell us that a Level 3 prisoner has been captured and we must move to the High Security Level 3 Teleportation Chamber. Upon hearing this, Sarge "oils" himself.

As with the previous two rooms, the Level 3 Teleportation Chamber reused the Alien Encounter sets. The only noticeable differences are the addition of two laser canons and galactic lettering.

Level 3 Teleportation Chamber

After everyone is seated and the DNA Scanners lowered around our bodies, the teleportation process begins and Stitch is beamed into a chamber located in the middle of the room. Of course, he escapes soon after and havoc ensues. As with Alien Encounter, much of the action takes place in the dark. Stitch bounces on our shoulders, touches us, and inflicts his chilidog breath on us. When the lights are on, the two laser cannons frantically try to hit and subdue Stitch as he spits on the audience. In the end, he escapes from the Teleportation Chamber and travels to Walt Disney World. Cameras capture him climbing Cinderella Castle before licking the camera lens. Having lost the Level 3 prisoner, Captain Gantu releases us and we exit into either Mickey's Star Traders or Merchant of Venus.

The reaction to Stitch's Great Escape is mixed. Those who like or love the character Stitch are generally pleased with this attraction. Those that are ambivalent or don't "get" Stitch, generally don't like this replacement for Alien Encounter. I fall into this second camp.

I believe Disney has "dumbed" down Stitch's Great Escape to an unacceptable level. I understand that the mature nature of Alien Encounter was causing management headaches, but Stitch's Great Escape is too juvenile. And unfortunately, it did not really accomplish its goal of becoming a kid-friendly attraction. Many children are still terrified when thrust into extended darkness accompanied by loud noises. While experiencing this attraction the other day, I could hear several small children crying and some screaming in terror.

It was also after the opening of Stitch's Great Escape that some people began grumbling about Tomorrowland becoming "Fantasyland 2." Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin had opened nearby six years earlier and now this second attraction based on animated characters was invading what once had been a mecca for science fact and science fiction. Little did they know that in three more years, more cartoon characters would be taking up residence here.

Mickey's Star Traders can be seen from the People Mover as it passes by this shop on its way to Space Mountain. Be sure to look at the art deco graphics that line the walls in this gift shop.

Mickey's Star Traders

Mickey's Star Traders

Mickey's Star Traders

Merchant of Venus has continued the Stitch theme with several murals displaying animated aliens roaming about Tomorrowland. Stitch can also be seen sticking his head out of the ceiling. Both shops sell typical Disney souvenirs.

Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus

Merchant of Venus

Well, that's it for Part Six. Check back next week when I'll be discussing The Timekeeper, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

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About June 2014

This page contains all entries posted to The “World” According to Jack in June 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2014 is the previous archive.

July 2014 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.