Best Reasons to Love the Peoplemover
What’s the most pragmatic attraction at Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland? Anyone who has ever had tired feet during a hectic park day knows the answer. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is like a loyal friend; it’s always there when you need a pick-me-up. It’ll distract you for ten minutes and then send you off with a smile on your face.
Did you know that it once had a higher purpose in the eyes of Walt Disney? Here are a few historical tidbits that should make you love the PeopleMover even more.
Walt Disney Helped Build It
The timeline of the PeopleMover is a bit muddled. It wasn’t an original attraction on Walt Disney World’s opening day. It had existed back in the 1960s, though. In fact, its creation is an integral part of Disney lore.
During the run-up to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney and his team at WED Enterprises, the world’s first Imagineers, faced a difficult problem. At the expo, they wouldn’t have the ability to control crowds like they could at Disneyland.
They needed a new kind of throughput solution to guarantee that riders would reach the various sets on attractions in a timely manner.
To solve the problem, Disney and his employees invented a new kind of transportation system, one that would function kind of like Autopia. Cars would move due to hidden rails underneath them, keeping them on a set schedule.
This attraction, the Ford Magic Skyway, was so novel that it became the impetus for two different kinds of Disney rides: the Omnimover attractions and the PeopleMover.
Two years after the World’s Fair ended in 1965, the Goodyear PeopleMover debuted at Disneyland. You’re probably wondering why Goodyear was the sponsor rather than Ford, and that’s a funny anecdote. Ford executives felt somewhat threatened by the PeopleMover technology. It seemed to prophesy a future without cars, which scared Ford.
Goodyear knew that people would always need tires, and so they stepped up as the sponsors of the world’s first PeopleMover attraction.
Besides, the first Disneyland iteration of the ride had tires! When Disney finally copied the PeopleMover at Magic Kingdom, the new vehicles didn’t use tires, which is why Goodyear didn’t transfer their sponsorship. As a tribute to the Imagineers who came up with the ride design, the Walt Disney World version started with the name, WEDway Peoplemover.
The PeopleMover Once Had a Greater Destiny
One of the dirty secrets of the PeopleMover is that its current existence isn’t the one that was initially planned for it. On October 27, 1966, Walt Disney recorded a video about his planned development in Central Florida. Called the Florida Project or Project X, this project was shrouded in secrecy, partially because Disney had tried to purchase the land on the sly. He knew that people would charge his corporation more, even if they were selling Florida swampland.
Uncle Walt had a special plan for his new swampland. Where others saw something worthless, this visionary imagined a better tomorrow. He intended to build the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) on these grounds.
To him, this part of Florida would evolve into a utopia, one where titans of industry would visit and learn the Disney ways. To reach this destination, they’d need to travel, but the entrepreneur responsible for Disneyland wasn’t a fan of cars.
His EPCOT would emphasize two forms of transportation, the monorail and…the PeopleMover. Yes, cars would drive on a part of the EPCOT campus, but they would be underground and thereby unseen. The better tomorrow would include stylish transportation that also possessed utility.
The monorails would carry guests across vast distances quickly. The PeopleMover would take them the rest of the way, a kind of combined moving sidewalk and ground-level tram.
It would have been revolutionary had EPCOT come to fruition as its designer planned. Unfortunately, he died of cancer only a few months after filming the EPCOT announcement video.
The PeopleMover Still Connects with EPCOT
One of the saddest parts of PeopleMover history is that the first vehicle didn’t open at Disneyland until after Uncle Walt’s death. His hope for this form of transportation was that it would revolutionize metropolitan travel.
Guests would head directly to their intended destination via the PeopleMover, saving them the aggravation of walking and the frustration of crowded roads. Frankly, the entire premise was brilliant, and I’m mystified as to why urban planners haven’t explored the concept in larger detail.
When the PeopleMover finally arrived at Walt Disney World in 1975, the place we know as Epcot didn’t exist. And the EPCOT that Uncle Walt had envisioned would never come to fruition. Its legacy remains connected to the PeopleMover, though.
As fans of the ride know, a model of EPCOT aka Progress City is visible near the start of the PeopleMover. What you may not realize is that it’s only a fraction of the original model.
Once displayed at Disney’s Carousel Theater, the scale rendering of Progress City has since had many components removed. Most of the cars and almost all of the landscaping from the original model were later taken off the prototype.
Even with its limitations, the structure remains equal parts dazzling and frustrating. When you look at the detailed renderings in the model, you know what could have been. And it might have changed the world.
While the video quality isn’t great, this YouTube video shows close-ups of many elements of Progress City. The only way that you’ll get to appreciate all of them on the PeopleMover is if it stops right there, which I’ve been lucky enough to have happen a couple of times.
Progress City fans should read the article here. The detailed photographs will blow your mind. Walt Disney had mapped all of this out more than 50 years ago! Some of us could be living there today if history had been kinder.
Instead, Uncle Walt died soon afterward, and Imagineers lacked the wherewithal to create his version of EPCOT without him. The PeopleMover is both the attraction that forcibly reminds us of what we’re missing and the only place where we can see a scale model of Progress City.
Notably, the original version of the PeopleMover no longer exists. Disneyland closed the ride in 1995, deciding that it seemed too dated to take up the valuable Tomorrowland space at the Happiest Place on Earth. At Magic Kingdom, the attraction has a more ostentatious name, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover.
My belief is that park planners kept that name to reflect a Tomorrowland that never will be, the one that Uncle Walt spent the last years of his life trying to make a reality. Even though the idea of the PeopleMover never took off as a legitimate form of travel, it stands for something more, especially with Disney fanatics.
It’s one of the lasting remnants of the genius of Walt Disney. And it’s still a lot of fun to ride, too, especially when you’re tired on a hot day.
Finally, if you’ve never watched the original EPCOT announcement, you really should. It’s archived on YouTube. As you view it, remember that Walt Disney was in the final stages of cancer when he filmed it. Even as he approached the end of his life, he was still trying to leave a better world behind for those who would come after him.