The PeopleMover: An Appreciation of its Rich History
Many Disney rides enable the suspension of disbelief, opening your mind to limitless possibilities.
For Walt Disney, the ride that set his mind afire with futuristic ideas wasn’t one he ever rode. Uncle Walt died in December of 1966.
The captivating attraction debuted in July of 1967. Still, Disney knew that this ride could change everything.
Today, let’s take a moment to view the ride through Uncle Walt’s eyes. It’s time for an appreciation of the PeopleMover, the Magic Kingdom ride meant for EPCOT.
By now, you’re likely familiar with the ambitious plans that Walt Disney shared about his dream project.
Called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), this place would have filled the lands that Uncle Walt purchased on the sly in Central Florida.
Where others saw swampland, the entrepreneur dreamt of a better tomorrow, a place that would function as a capitalist paradise.
His death prevented the futuristic community from becoming a reality. And that stopped something extraordinary from transpiring.
One of Walt Disney’s plans centered on the next generation of transportation. Even then, he understood that roads could suffer traffic woes.
The EPCOT plan called for multiple levels of transportation…literally. Guests from out of town would park their cars on the ground level.
Then, they’d reach the main level for the community. Here, monorails would transport guests across longer distances.
For short hops, Disney would employ technology that they’d developed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
The Ford Magic Skyway never turned into a permanent theme park attraction, but its impact remains to this day.
This system moves guests along a set path at a fixed rate. Disney utilized it for Omnimover attractions soon after the expo ended.
However, Uncle Walt dreamt bigger. He wanted to create vehicles capable of moving guests around at a set rate, not unlike escalators.
This system literally moved people across short distances, and that’s how it got its name.
Yes, Imagineers created the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover for the intended purpose of actual transportation.
Tragically, Uncle Walt’s death ended most significant plans for the community of tomorrow. In its place, we received a theme park instead.
Repurposing an Idea as a Ride
The New York World’s Fair ended on October 17th, 1965. Imagineers spent the next year transporting attractions from there to Disneyland.
Meanwhile, some of them worked on a different project. They deconstructed the WEDWay system that had anchored the Ford Magic Skyway.
A rotating platform beneath this attraction had provided a steady path for the Ford vehicles.
Disney correctly deduced that the same premise would work on a larger scale. It was, in truth, the backbone of the PeopleMover plan at EPCOT.
However, that project remained far away. Disney needed a proof of concept sooner…and a new attraction at Tomorrowland wouldn’t hurt, either.
Uncle Walt had just spent most of his money buying swampland in Florida. He needed theme park revenue to pay for the actual development of EPCOT.
We know that this plan never came to fruition, but it did provide the impetus for the building of a Tomorrowland ride.
On July 2nd, 1967, the Goodyear PeopleMover opened. Yes, its sponsor was Goodyear, not Ford.
Hilariously, Ford believed that the PeopleMover meant the end of car sales in the United States. Okay, that’s a mild exaggeration, but it’s close enough to the truth.
Ford had no intention of sponsoring a form of transportation that could reduce the country’s reliance on automobiles.
You must remember that in the 1960s, monorails seemed like a viable form of future tech. Ford executives worried that the PeopleMover would evolve into that, too.So, Disney slapped some tires on each PeopleMover vehicle (seriously!) and brought Goodyear on board as a sponsor.
Here’s the audio that came with PeopleMover rides from 1967 through 1990:
Amusingly, Goodyear stopped sponsoring the ride at the start of 1982, but Disney kept the Go Go Goodyear jingle through 1990!
Walt Disney World’s PeopleMover
Some fans confuse Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress with the PeopleMover in one crucial way.
They know that one of the rides appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair. They just pick the wrong one.
Obviously, the PeopleMover couldn’t have been there since it didn’t exist yet. Instead, Disney transferred the Carousel of Progress twice.
First, Disney took it from New York to California for a run at Disneyland. Then, it went to Walt Disney World, where it remains to this day.
The addition of the PeopleMover was either simpler or more challenging, depending on your perspective.
Imagineers constructed a new version for its East Coast park. It took longer than you might think, though.
Executives stubbornly refused to accept the reality about EPCOT for several years. So, they didn’t want to turn the PeopleMover into a ride, at least at first.
Once everyone accepted that EPCOT wouldn’t match Uncle Walt’s vision, park officials reconsidered.
Disney constructed a single-station mass transit ride system at Magic Kingdom. For more than 45 years, guests have basked in its glory.
Yes, I’m speaking of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, the newer and only version in existence at Disney today.
In 1995, Disneyland closed its version in one of the worst decisions in the company’s history.
The PeopleMover’s replacement, Rocket Rods, nearly took down the foundational support structures for both rides. Somebody miscalculated the weights involved.
So, Disneyland fans gaze with envy at Magic Kingdom’s version of the ride, which is understandable.
For many Disney fans, the PeopleMover embodies everything wonderful about a theme park visit.
The ride is more than just relaxing and entertaining. It’s also stubbornly optimistic. Its ride path carries it past Progress City.
In this way, Disney maintains a link to the past, that EPCOT project that will never be…but one that all Disney lovers know by reputation anyway.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
In early 2020, the PeopleMover experienced some odd incidents, including smoke coming from the escalator.
I was there for part of this time, and I can tell you that cast members were just as confused by what was happening.
Possible fire on the PeopleMover as smoke fills the entrance/exit ramp. We hope everyone is OK! We LOVE the PeopleMover!https://t.co/sfNNXuwvHN
— MickeyBlog.com (@MickeyBlog_) January 2, 2020
Just as the pandemic began, Magic Kingdom announced a refurbishment of the attraction. That led to a bit of mystery.
When Walt Disney World reopened last July, the PeopleMover didn’t return. Over the next few months, Disney pushed back its return date.
By the start of 2021, guests were genuinely freaked out that the PeopleMover may never return.
Thankfully, the ride made its triumphant comeback in April of 2021, more than a year after it closed for renovations.
Nobody is completely clear about what Disney changed, though. Well, there are some cosmetic differences, to be sure, but people noticed other tests.
Apparently, park officials needed to verify the structural integrity of the PeopleMover after nearly a half-century in operation.
Thankfully, they proved that it’s still safe, allowing for the reopening of the ride I consider the heart and soul of Tomorrowland.
Now, we can once again board the PeopleMover and dream of what might have been.
The next time you drive by the Progress City model, please shut your eyes and imagine what might have been if only Walt Disney had lived.
PeopleMovers might be a standard form of transportation around the world! Instead, you’ll only find one at Magic Kingdom, which makes it all the more special.