The WEDway PeopleMover Story

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney History, Disneyland Resort, Samland

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Published on December 08, 2014 at 3:01 am with 58 Comments

A while back, we wandered through the Monsanto House of the Future with Samland. That demonstration home lasted until 1967, when a whole new Tomorrowland based on the “World on the Move” theme was unleashed. One of the breakthrough attractions in the new Tomorrowland was the WEDway PeopleMover. Although it is now gone, it certainly is not forgotten. Where did this marvel of technology come from?

One of the breakthrough attractions of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was the WEDway PeopleMover. Although it is now gone, it certainly is not forgotten. Where did this marvel of technology come from?


The PeopleMover is a by-product of Walt’s involvement with the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. 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 at the Fair with nearly 15 million visitors taking a spin behind the wheel of a Ford.

The purpose for using Ford products was to give guests a chance to experience the new vehicles first hand. The Ford Mustang was introduced at this Fair and this was the first chance that many people had to ride in one. This interaction is similar to what Ford did at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. During that Fair, drivers took guests on a ride along a short test track within the pavilion. This meant long hours in line for guests. A goal for the 1964 Fair was to increase guest capacity. Therefore, a new type of propulsion system was required to move the convertibles through the Magic Skyway.

“We discovered the idea for the New York World’s Fair WEDway PeopleMover system while on a business trip to the Ford Motor Company in Detroit,” John Hench said. “Walt and I were invited to visit the mill where Ford made steel for car bodies. We saw a device for handling steel ingots, masses of glowing red-hot metal. The ingots were moved around on tracks powered by rollers from one area to another while being transformed into sheet steel for making cars.” Walt asked, “Do you think we could put some kind of seat on that type of conveyor, or some kind of arrangement for people to ride on…do you think this thing would handle it?” Hench replied, “I said, “Sure, look at the weight carried here. I bet that Roger Broggie would know how to do it.”

The challenge was to find a way to push the Ford cars around a winding track with elevation changes. The solution was a technology called a booster brake drive system. This system was first used on the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. Broggie said, “Walt remembered the booster brakes on the Matterhorn, which were at the top of each hill. They were rolling tires that helped slow down the cars and get them going at the right speed.”

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 film claims one of the benefits of this technology is, “No single car can ever break down and cause a rush hour traffic jam.” Even if one of the motors breaks, it would not stop the system, as the other motors would pick up the slack.

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.

In 1964, Walt was the one who first realized that he could adapt the World’s Fair propulsion technology and create the WEDway PeopleMover system. PeopleMover name was Walt’s working title for the project but it stuck. In 1966, Walt had a chance to ride in a prototype system of the attraction that was built on the back lot. He passed away before the system could be installed in Disneyland.

For Walt, the primary function for the Disneyland PeopleMover was to give guests an overview of Tomorrowland. After this “bird’s eye-view” introduction, guests would know exactly where they wanted to go next and what to expect.

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 Disneyland WEDway PeopleMover system consisted of 62 continuously moving, fully automated four-car trains. The attraction could host up to 4,885 guests per hour. The performance claim was “on peak days, it carries nearly 40,000 passengers.” Guests would take a 16-minute journey through Tomorrowland. Goodyear Tire Company was the sponsor. The attraction opened in 1967 and closed in 1995.

The loading platform is similar to a system that Walt spotted in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bob Gurr had already designed such a system and Walt sent him out to Lausanne to check theirs out. Turns out that the Lausanne version had a number of safety concerns and could not be used. Guests would step onto a Speedramp, an escalator belt without steps, that lead up to the loading platform. The Speedramp had as much great carrying capacity as a traditional moving stairway. At the top of the ramp was a circular walkway that was moving at the same speed as the vehicles and will “continue to move even while passengers are disembarking or stepping aboard.” The vehicles run continuously and “the next car is always ready.” The doors open and close automatically and it does not take many attendants to manage very large crowds.

When the attraction opened at the Magic Kingdom, Disney used a different propulsion system that in many ways was an improvement over the previous technology. Instead of using rubber tires to push the trains along, which were subject to wear and tear, linear induction motors were installed. All of the moving parts were eliminated. Embedded in the track are powerful electro-magnets that are switched on and off in sequence. As the vehicle approaches, the magnet pulses on and the opposing magnetic field pushes the vehicle forward. Each motor is made up of a proximity sensor, speed sensor, and a motor unit. One design constraint for systems powered by linear induction motors was the track had to be level. The older World’s Fair and Disneyland technology allowed for elevation changes.

For Walt’s vision for EPCOT, the WEDway PeopleMover was a “key system in [a] coordinated network” of transportation technologies and a critical piece of the puzzle. The EPCOT film touted the WEDway PeopleMover as “a silent, all-electric system that never stops running.” Walt needed a reliable intermediate transportation system to ferry guests from the Transportation Lobby out to the retail districts, the high-density apartments, the greenbelt with its recreational facilities and out to the ring of low-density single-family homes. He would also use the technology to connect the monorail to the industrial parks. As well as functioning as a transportation device, the proposal was for the WEDway PeopleMover to give guests a preview of what was going on inside the industrial facilities.

For EPCOT, initial plans showed a system of twenty WEDway PeopleMover lines “that radiate to and from the Transportation Lobby.” This system would become the string that ties the various land use pearls together. “From all over the community residents going to their jobs converge by WEDway on the Center City. Many work downtown in offices, stores, and shops, but most employees go beyond the city core to their jobs.” From the Transportation Lobby to the low-density residential zones at the far edge, the WEDway PeopleMover would be the transportation system of choice for residents and visitors in EPCOT.

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. Do you miss the PeopleMover in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland? Was it a product of its time, or would an updated (and ADA and OSHA friendly) version be an asset to the world of tomorrow?

Leave your comments below.


Sam’s collection of theme park books continues to grow. His newest book, diving into the history of Universal Studios, has JUST been release. These books are the perfect gift for the Disney fan in your life.

About Sam Gennawey

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. Sam is 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 is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I really miss the PeopleMover. It remains one of my favorite attractions at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World (a relaxing escape from a busy park). Paul Pressler sure did make a dark mark on Disneyland when he green lit the horrible Tomorrowland 98 project which killed this beloved classic attraction.

    I know the official word is that the PeopleMover can’t return as it was before, due to safety issues and structural issues on the track. But I don’t see any reason why those issues can’t be creatively resolved. Tomorrowland needs a nice relaxing family ride. It needs the movement. And quite frankly, it needs a little bit more Walt.

    BRING BACK THE PEOPLEMOVER!

    • Algernon

      You are sooooo right! And the old Tomorrowland looked so much better than today.

    • indianajack

      Totally agree, Tomorrowland could really use the Peoplemover again. If there’s a will, then there’s a way to bring it back to structural integrity and OSHA standards.

      • Eddie Davidson

        I think that’s the point. There’s no will. Why? Because except for a few old timers on Disneyland forums nobody really cares about the PeopleMovers. A whole generation has grown up without them. You can’t miss what you haven’t experienced. I’ve been going to Disneyland since the late 1960′s and I to be frank do not miss them at all. If I really need to get away from the chaos and relax I’ll walk over to Downtown Disney for a drink or hop on the Monorail to the DL Hotel. I’d much rather Disneyland spent the money it would take to restart the PMs on something else. In fact, T-Land would be so much better if they removed the tracks. They just remind some people of what used to be. Do you think Universal would have let a defunct attraction sit around it’s 3rd busiest park for decades? What is Disneyland’s problem? I’ll answer the question: Orlando-centric management.

    • JulieMouse

      Totally agree…Disneyland needs this kind of attraction back within it’s walls! They keep saying it just wouldn’t be possible, but someone on these boards said something that repeats within me…one of Walt’s favorite sayings, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”! Keep this kind of thinking alive within Disneyland, don’t tell me you can’t do it, have fun doing “the impossible”!!! Where there is a will, there’s a way….

    • jcruise86

      I agree, Dusty! The CoP & the Peoplemover are the two of the main reasons I want to visit the Magic Kingdom.

      The Disneyland resort is great in late 2012, but Tomrrowland is the area that needs to be improved. I want to look into it from the hub and see a clean rockless view (white, silver, or shiny black) that includes new Peoplemovers. A fun, scenic, high-capacity ride for the entire family.

      Thanks for the exceptional article, Sam!

    • the sweep spot

      I agree with you Dusty, well said.

    • Disneykin Kid

      Why can’t they just entirely rebuild the track? Would it cost that much more than trying to retrofit it? Then they can do something really cool. Hey they rebuilt the Space Mountain track.

    • drich

      I think part of the problem is that Disneyland management doesn’t seem to know what to do with Tomorrowland, They aren’t going to invest in a replacement (or even removing the track) if they don’t know if that replacement will fit in with whatever Tomorrowland becomes.

      Part of the reason I love Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland so much is because they didn’t try to predict the future. Disneyland’s Tommorrowland has seemed stale for a long time in part because the future is moving too fast for attractions to be built before the future they are trying to show passes them by.

      I really feel that they would be more successful if they either go with “tommorrow as seen by the past” like they did in both Paris and portions of Disney Sea, or an “alternate” tomorrow like they are currently doing with the Star Wars attractions or the Port Discovery area of Disney Sea. However, that would require an entire rebuild of Tomorrowland, and I don’t see that in the budget any time soon.

  • Flynn

    Wouldn’t a Maglev (or similar) version be a great idea and in keeping with a vision of looking forward?

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      Love it Flynn! You are right on the money. It should utilize LIMs as well so it can handle hills. An updated version of this classic would serve all interests perfectly.

  • Omnispace

    Great article. Many people probably don’t realize the true history behind the PeopleMover. It’s what made Tomorrowland so interesting back then because it was a REAL prototype technology being demonstrated — and no contrived backstory! You simply enjoyed it for what it was. There seems to be a misunderstanding how popular excursion-type attractions can be. The PeopleMover was a great way to relax and enjoy looking at Disneyland from a fun perspective and the entire family could enjoy it together. With 62 trains, that’s over 900 people at a time it could accommodate…!

  • kburford

    Amazing article. Another great piece that shows Walt Disney’s great mind at work. This, like that great piece on EPCOT & WestCOT, really gets my mind working on how cool these transportation systems are. Hopefully Disney can start getting Tomorrowland back to a vision of attractions that showcase new technology that could maybe someday by part of the future.

  • sjdimon

    Tomorrowland was a genuine “Land on the Move” back in the late 1960′s. Starting with the Subs, then the Autopia and Train and Ground Level. Moving up we had the Peoplemover and the Monorail. Next up were the Rocket Jets and finally there was the Skyway. Add to that the moving Carousel Theater, and there was motion galore. It will be a VERY SAD DAY when they actually move in and remove the Peoplemover Tracks to replace it with…well…NOTHING. More than just about anything else I dislike when they remove one attraction and leave the infrastructure just sitting there.

    ….

    • sixalex

      I like your point about Tomorrowland being a place of movement. Today nothing moves in the main area but that big odd pointy thing. The dead space always makes me think of post-apocalyptic movies from the 60′s.

  • eicarr

    Switching to Maglev would mean a dull flat smaller souless ride like at disneyworld. The old ride was PERFECT. But it can never come back and should be torn down since the sight of the track upsets me to no end. When I see the track I look down and want to get the heck out of the sad land that used to be best in the park.

  • Timon

    WDW – “One design constraint for systems powered by linear induction motors was the track had to be level.”
    Since 1975 there have been many advances in LIM technology now used by trains, roller coasters etc. I would think with today’s technology could easily match up with the original track elevation changes.

    I would be fun if each car could select TOUR or THRILL where Thrill is a moderate coaster before rejoining the standard Tour route.

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      Absolutely. In fact, disney uses LIMs to propel you forward both rapidly and slowly on California Screamin’ (that slow second lift hill is LIM). Easily done these days.

    • DavePurz

      Thanks for making this point, Timon. i was about to post the same thing. The newer LIMs and controllers would have no problem with the current track.

  • 6Hours2DL

    I think the PeopleMover is gone forever. I would like to see the track repurposed as a Tomorrowland pedestrian flyover. Put the Astro Orbiter back were it belongs and utilize spiral ramps at either end for pedestrian access, perhaps even a speedramp for Tomorrowland entry.

  • jbm500

    It was great to read the World’s Fair version of the PeopleMover and how it evolved.

  • robbiem

    I’d love to see a ride like the people mover return to Tomorrowland. And while they are at it they can finally add a WEDway to Epcot like the original park plans called for to take people around the lagoon

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      If they could figure out a way to add it to Epcot without ruining the view of the lagoon or the countries, I’d be all for that!

    • Country Bear

      LOVE this idea. It just seems like common sense, doesn’t it? I’m sure TDO has a wonderfully contrived reason why this would never be a possibility for EPCOT. Oh I’m sure that somewhere in a planning room is an exciting “bus around the lagoon” concept that is far more practical to Disney’s ever-creative accountants.

  • scarymouse

    With all the current parking complaints ,maybe a people mover to some off land parking structures using it instead of buses or trams to move people to DCA or DD an alternative to the monorail.Re-purpose it elsewhere but still have it it some form.

  • Snakeyes

    I think that this ride needs to be done with a time travel theme and a autonomatronic Walt Disney as well as other historical figures that have been talked about in past rides but never used.

  • ralzap

    Bring it back. 20 minutes off your feed, with a tour of tomorrwland.

  • DisWedWay

    Great article Sam as usual. Always loved seeing the WED photo of Bob Gurr driving the convertable Lincoln with John Hench trying to keep up with him while discussing the matter. When the show opened at the Worlds Fair in 64 they didn’t have the new 641/2 models yet like the Mustang as used in James Bonds 1964 Goldfinger. They were later installed and like all the cars in the show, guests could purchase them and were given their vin number. When the show ended in 1965, the purchased convertables had their drivetrains all reinstalled and were given to their new owners. Their is a quite a cult of people who own Disney Mustang Convertables from the Worlds Fair. Check your vin number. I would love to see the WedWay returned to Tomorrowland as well as the Sky Buckets through out the park. They were both so Kinetic! PD

  • Timekeeper

    PRT or Personal Rapid Transit would be a wonderful way to get this land, Tomorrowland, back to the future.

    Timekeeper