The WEDway PeopleMover Story

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

Tagged: , , ,


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.

Browse Archived Articles by

  • darkamor

    I miss the PeopleMover & curse the day it was removed / replaced (I will respectfully say that the Rocket Rods had a nice soundtrack, as well as a queue area – but overall? It was an epic fail!) ….

    I realize now, in order for there ever to be another PeopleMover @ Tomorrowland (Disneyland), it would require an expensive retro-fitting (remove, replace) of the entire track & elevated supports …

    Can the Walt Disney Co afford to shut down 1/3 of Tomorrowland & spend the money to get this accomplished? Well, they didn’t hesitate to waste about 500 million at the box office offering us “epic fails” – when that money would’ve been better spent on fixing up Tomorrowland!

    If Bob Iger wants to leave his post by 2016 on a high note? Then return of the PeopleMover and create a better Tomorrowland

    C J

  • AvanteGardens

    Hey, all these comments are from last month. Why is this article showing up as new today?

    • AvanteGardens

      Oh, correction, this month but TWO YEARS AGO. Hmmm, something fishy.

    • tonyrr1

      Agreed… Is this some kind of recycled article or something.?

  • tonyrr1

    Don’t write much, but I did want to chime in here and say that, whatever they do with Tomorrowland going forward (revamp it, make it Star Wars Land, etc.), I believe they desperately need to bring back an iteration of the PeopleMover. I think it’s a lame excuse for Disney to say that they don’t bring it back because of infrastructure or safety issues; there’s a reason why this attraction is at the top of polls of most missed. It was simultaneously a respite and oasis in the midst of the busy throng of guests as well as a means to appreciate the land itself and have an aerial view to plan the next attractions one wanted to visit. Walt would never let something as trivial as the word “impossible” stop him from creating the desired guest experience.

  • Ravjay12

    In its final years, I know because I worked at Tomorrowland Terrace, hardly anybody rode the thing! It doesn’t make fiscal sense to continue to operate something that nobody rides. I actually applaud Paul Pressler and the Imagineers for trying to make it into something people wanted to ride. The track should’ve been torn down 10 years ago. It was innovative at the time, but it’s time for something else to take its place or just ripped out.

    • Larry Parker

      I rode the People Mover for over a ten years. I don’t recall ever seeing the ride without guests.

      • Ravjay12

        I’m sure you were at Disneyland every day for 10 years checking to see if people rode the Peoplemover! Of course during your ten years there were people riding. It was the only ride in the park with no line, even during summer. Over the years I worked there, the queue became smaller and smaller due to low wait times. Most of the queue became overflow seating for the Lunching Pad. There were a lot of times during the day and night when there was no line and cars were cycling through completely empty. Low guest riding was one of the factors in closing the Peoplemover. Most people didn’t care about it anymore!

    • Larry Parker

      You sound like a corporate hack. To have a ride with easy waits doesn’t suit the pursuit of profit-and if that’s the criterion for an attraction’s existence, then you are right.

      • Ravjay12

        Nah, just a Cast member hack! Walt didn’t care about profits, he just tried to change the world through his theme parks. It’s all business now and it doesn’t make fiscal sense to operate rides that don’t have people on them.

    • Darth Goofy

      Yes, like a painful tooth that needs pulled, the derelict people mover tracks need to come down. Fiscally, the intertwining tracks are a nightmare and supposedly too costly refurbish. (Question How did Disney afford to build them in the first place though?….Different leadership style that inspired adventure and that wanted to deliver a true experience to the guests and willing to invest in the park.) The tracks will never be used again for the ill fated people mover. Hopefully some day Dyscorp will come up with a plan to revitalize Tomorrrowland. We have waited over a decade and still no result.

  • Larry Parker

    I too wish the attraction were still here. But then CEO Eisner in another mis-step, removed it and generally degraded Tomorrowland.(I recall him personally promoting Rocket Rods, the failed People Mover replacement.)Hopefully a Tomorrowland makeover with the People Mover returned, is in the near future.

  • tooncity

    The current condition of Tomorrowland is inexcusable. It’s the main reason I never renewed my AP after 2002. You go to DL to have fun and forget your troubles, but TL just makes me sad. It’s a place that could be grand, instead it’s just a slap in the face and you shill out a $100 to get into the dump.

    • Algernon

      Just compare those old pictures to today’s Tomorrowland. What a difference. It sure was better back then.

      • SteveColorado

        Are you so discontent with your life today that you must constantly live in the past?

  • dizneydomenic

    Bring it back…very simple..the infrastructure is there. just needs to be fixed up…and move the rockets back up at same time…only change the elevator lift to also stop at the people mover loading area too for ADA …etc. ..that fixes too glaring problems in Tomorrowland… i HATE those rockets at ground level where they are located…..and…something i think would be fun…extend the people mover tracks…behind the small world facade into what hopefully will be a star wars area, looping it around it…and back to tomorrowland/fantasyland. Could they possible add an show building for it above where motor boat cruise area is. The superspeed tunnel is already there… but im thinking maybe something tied to Fantasyland…not already present….putting you in the beauty and the beast “Be out Guest” sequence with audio animatronics…again this would be another “turntable like the loading area…similar to journey into imagination with the screens surrounding you …just all encompassing. I think adding things like that to the people mover experience would GREATLY add to its renewed popularity.

  • Mousecat

    I must admit that this oldie but goodie running today was a bit of a surprise. With that said, I hope you enjoy. Since this article first ran I have learned that a primary reason why the PeopleMover at Disneyland was closed was energy costs. At one point, it used as much electricity than the rest of Tomorrowland combined. That is a lot of juice. The system is Florida is more efficient. And yes, LIM technology has come a long way so who knows. If somebody was forward thinking enough….

    Sam Gennawey
    aka Samland

  • bob1

    The reason Disney doesn’t revamp Tomorrowland is that they feel they don’t have to. As long as the crowds are still there and paying the price, it’s simply easier to be lazy and not bother. An ethic that Walt Disney himself wouldn’t put up with for a second.

  • disneydempster

    What I appreciate about Disneyland earlier development is the way the layered and intertwined attractions – subs, monorail, people mover and autopia are all interwoven creating interesting visuals and an ever-changing dynamic. All of the newer attractions are stand alone and it seems we lose the beauty of how everything fits together. People mover or some other attraction would be great to have again as it weaves in and out of the different attractions and spaces.

  • ogso

    They keep taking out family rest areas. The people mover was a place to go and let your kids sleep for a bit while checking out the world below. Then they took out country bear jamboree. Again a nice interactive place to cool off and if the kids are tired, let them have a little nap. All that’s left now is the tiki room and small world! Like most I’m in favor of returning the people mover and relocating the rocket jets to its elevated platform. Yes another old guy hear from…

  • Ravjay12

    Tomorrowland was always a difficult Land to develop because technology is changing so fast. How many of us have been there over the past 50 years and seen something there that’s outdated? Even Innoventions which was to showcase new technologies has become a Marvel meet and greet. They need to forget the idea of Tomorrowland and develop it into a franchise like Star Wars or Marvel. I don’t need to go to Disneyland to experience new technology, I can just go to my local Best Buy or convention center. I just want to visit imagined worlds that I can experience with my kids. Walt tried to use Disneyland to showcase the Monorail and Peoplemover systems to use them in cities across the country, but nothing has come out of it outside of WDW and Vegas. We don’t need the Peoplemover anymore. We don’t need Circle Vision, Adventure Thru Inner Space, or even the Carrousel of Progress. We need a new Land for a new generation.

    • Larry Parker

      First time I’ve heard someone say their judgement trumps the genius of Walt Disney. Sounds like the new corporate greed culture of pursuit of profit above all else. Are you a current corporate Disney employee?

      • Ravjay12

        No, not since 2004. Walt’s genius was that he didn’t hold on to nostalgia when it came to his theme parks. He knew he could always top himself and do better. Those attractions were great and innovative for the time, but it’s time for new experiences.

  • Klutch

    Not sure why we’re getting an article from 2012, but OK. It’s a great article!

    In addition being a Disney-Head, I’m also a classic Ford Mustang enthusiast. (I own a 1970 Mustang Mach 1.) Several months ago, “Mustang Monthly” magazine did a story about a convertible from the World’s Fair. It’s one of only two Magic Skyway Mustangs known to exist.

    The cars have unique weld marks on the bottom. Apparently, some type brackets were welded to the bottoms of the cars for the Magic Skyway track system. When the World’s fair was over, the brackets were cut off and at least some of the cars were sold.

    The larger Magic Skyway cars had the engines and transmissions removed before they were put on the track. However, the Mustangs retained their engines and transmissions. So, it wasn’t hard to resell them after their epic journeys through the Magic Skyway.

  • Tigger Fan

    Doing a people mover in tomorrow land just wouldn’t work anymore, Some how it won’t fit in to the theme of future tomorrow land.

    I would like to see it transport guests to an from the various parking areas. Get rid of the busses to the toy story lot. And you have to wait 30 minutes or more sometimes just to board the Mickey & friends trams. Enlarge the trains to say 6 cars, 8 people to a car. Make a car simular to a tram car?
    Enclose the cars like they enclose the gondolas of the Mickey’s fun wheel for safety.
    They could still run the busses and trams during peak times.
    If and when they ever build the third gate they are going to need a better transportation system.

  • SteveColorado

    It was a good article but there are people movers everywhere now – at airports, malls, ski slopes, etc. Why put something that is commonplace or archaic in a land called Tomorrowland? Seems like some wants it to be MuseumLand. I loved the PeopleMover along with CircleVision (my all-time favorite) and America Sings, but nostalgia only goes so far when they could spend the money on something that will attract a lot of guests and be clever and exciting.