A few weeks ago, we wandered around the all-plastic Monsanto House of the Future
. WED Enterprises was hired to design the Ford Motor Company Pavilion in the summer of 1961 by Henry Ford II. The show would be called Magic Skyway and it would feature Ford convertibles as the ride vehicles. The Ford Pavilion had a $30 million budget and the building was nearly 275,000 square feet and the largest structure at the Fair. Welton Becket was the architect. The Magic Skyway became one of the most popular attractions with nearly 15 million visitors taking a spin behind the wheel of a Ford.
Magic Skyway. The solution for both the Ford cars at the Fair and ultimately the WEDway PeopleMover was to embed electric motors powering urethane wheels along a track every few feet with masonite on the bottom of the vehicles (silent with a great grip). Although the vehicles themselves do not have motors, the urethane wheels spinning below make contact with the masonite mounted on the bottom and push them along.The speed of the vehicles could vary determined by how fast the rubber wheels were spinning. The EPCOT
To test the technology, a three hundred foot oval track and loading ramp was built in the Burbank studio backlot. Ford sent over a white 1961 Lincoln Continental and a Thunderbird. The engines, transmissions, and much of the power train were then removed to make them lighter. Bob Gurr set up his conveyor system and it worked. Further refinements were made and the system was installed in New York.
The WEDway PeopleMover made its public debut as a signature part of the new Tomorrowland that opened in 1967. The Disneyland system was designed by Bob Gurr and Bill Watkins. What was not known to the general public was the attraction was specifically designed as a prototype for the system that Walt wanted to install in his futuristic city of EPCOT. Just like the monorail, Walt was going to use Disneyland as a way of testing the durability of the technology. For me, it was one of the breakthrough technologies that helped define my memories of Tomorrowland. The attraction has constantly polled at the top of the list as one of the most missed attractions at Disneyland.
The EPCOT system would feature trains consisting of four attached cars with each car seating up to four guests. Of course, the trains would be full size, therefore much larger then either the Disneyland or Magic Kingdom versions. The proposed headway time, the time it takes to wait for the next vehicle to arrive, was a mere three minutes. If a train was not already at the station, a rider would press a button and it would signal one to come. If the demand were to decrease, surplus trains would move back into the roundhouse.
The WEDway PeopleMover was the forerunner of another type of transportation technology called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). At the theme parks, the custom has become one party riding in one vehicle. This type of behavior is consistent with the PRT concept, whereby the guests are assigned to private vehicles, not shared with strangers, to take them on a nonstop no-transfer trip from their origin stations to their destination station. The WEDway PeopleMover provides an unprecedented level of privacy and security, which is a pleasant change from other forms of public transportation. It would be possible to provide users with key cards that limited access to certain stations.
Disney tried to sell the PeopleMover solution to cities and shopping mall developers. They set up a unit called the Community Transportation Services Division of Walt Disney Productions. The group offered modular systems that could be modified to meet the specific needs of its customers. The Houston Continental Airport installed a third generation WEDway PeopleMover system.
There's a lot of history and countless memories behind the beloved PeopleMover. Does the technology still have legs? Could it, or even should it, return to Disneyland's Tomorrowland?
Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. For the past couple of years he has been the publisher of , a blog dedicated to the history and design of the North American Disney theme parks. Sam is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County.
Sam has recently contributed to a book which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. "Four Decades of Magic" is now available in both hard copy and Kindle version at Amazon.