When Star Tours opened at Disneyland in 1987, little did the Imagineers know that they would create a new industry. The breakthrough attraction combined a motion simulation base with a film and a story to create an immersive environment that feels like you really are moving. It was not long before others would jump on the bandwagon and soon almost every theme park and shopping mall in America had such a device.

But was Star Tours the first such ride? Step back to Kansas City in 1905 to Electric Park, an amusement park so amazing that it would become one of Walt Disney’s fondest childhood memories and an inspiration to Disneyland. One of the hit attractions was Hale’s Tours and Scenes of the World.


George C. Hale, a retired fire chief, developed the attraction. The show was set in a railway car that seated seventy-two guests. At one end was a screen. Projected on the screen was a ten-minute film whose point of view was that of a camera mounted on the front of a moving train. This was known as a phantom ride. During the show, machines would rock the rail car from side to side, fans would blow, and painted scenery would pass by the windows. There was a special mechanism mounted on the undercarriage to recreate the clacking sound of the tracks. Whistles, bells, and live conductors added to the illusion.

The show was very popular and the concept was licensed to others. By 1907 there were more than 500 Hale’s Tours worldwide. According to Historian Graeme Baker of Cineroama, “Hale’s Tours warmed up the public to moving pictures and demonstrated to venue owners that the market was prepared to bear the cost of higher ticket prices in return for theaters with themed entertainment spaces and quality interior and exterior design.”

Many Hollywood legends would have their first exposure to motion pictures by riding on the Hale’s Tour including Carl Laemmle (Universal), Mary Pickford (Actress), Sam Warner (Warner Brothers), and Adolph Zukor (Paramount). The Hale’s Tours began to loose favor almost as fast as the phenomena began and by 1911 the last one shuttered its doors.


This was not the first time somebody tried creating a Motion simulator. In 1895, Robert Paul and novelist H.G. Wells patented a movie house that was designed like a spaceship, using still photos and movies. Wells wanted to simulate his science fiction book, The Time Machine. The ride was never built. Then a few years later a French company built the Cineorama, a simulated ride in a hot-air balloon with a 360-degree view. The ride burnt down after two days. Then came the Lumiere Brothers attempt with the Mareorama, which simulated the view from a ship’s bridge.


Later, Disneyland would get into the act. The most famous example was  the Rocket to the Moon attraction. Lessor known was Space Station X-1. From The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide: “At a time when the first satellite to orbit the Earth was still a couple of years away, Walt thought it would be fun to give guests a bird’s-eye view of the world from a “platform in space.” That was the concept behind Space Station X-1. Claude Coats and Peter Ellenshaw painted an aerial view of the United States based on the first photograph from space, which was taken on October 24, 1946, from an altitude of 65 miles. In this case, they moved the perspective up to 90 miles in space and painted the scene on a doughnut-shaped canvas. Guests stood along a railing and looked down at the painting. The lighting changed from daytime to nighttime, and the painting was illuminated in black light. The platform moved from the East to West Coast in 3 minutes. Over the years, the name would be changed to the Satellite View of America, but that was not enough to draw guests, and it closed on February 17, 1960.”

So in the end, it seems there is nothing new under the sun.  But Disney just does it best.


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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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  • MyFriendtheAtom

    any day i get to read anything about Space Station X-1 is a good day….

  • DanMcNeely

    Do you consider Spiderman, Transformers and Harry Potter motion simulator rides? If so, I think Universal does it the best. 🙂

    • Mousecat

      Yes, I consider the Universal rides as motion simulators (don’t forget the Minions and Shrek) and Universal generally does do a better job.


  • Sparky

    It was very interesting to read of these very early “simulator attractions! I had no idea. In my youth, back in the late 1970’s, I enjoyed a couple of simulator based rides that came along several years before Disney’s Star Tours.

    During my high school years my family vacationed in Branson, Missouri, which had not yet become the big tourist mecca that it is now. We loved the highly themed Silver Dollar City theme park. In 1977, 10 years before Star Tours, SDC opened a new area called the Deepwoods that featured a simulator attraction called Rube Dugan’s Diving Bell. It was a very Disney-like immersive attraction where even the queue helped set up the story. The story was that an old miner hid some gold in a cave, which later became flooded and covered by a lake. Rube Dugan, an eccentric inventor (voiced by Slim Pickens), devised and built a crude diving bell to go out and look for the gold. A rival had built his own underwater craft to try and get to the gold first. When you were waiting in the outdoors part of the queue, every so often you would see the top of one of Rube’s diving bells come out from under the dock, go out to the middle of the lake and submerge. On the other side of the lake, you would see the rival’s contraption also submerge. The queue wound through some caves until you came to one of the somewhat rickety looking diving bells, which looked like they had been made out of wood from a barn. They were totally convincing in appearance. Each one held around maybe 35-40 guests on benches that faced the front where there was all kinds of valves, levers and pressure gauges. The “captain”, Rube’s nephew, who is a live actor, enters and interacts with his uncle’s voice that is heard over a “sound tube”, He sets the diving bell off on it’s journey and opens an aperature to reveal a window once the diving bell is “underwater”. Basically, you became involved in a race and chase with the rival to get to the gold first. You dodge around stalagmites, stalagtites and other obtacles while chasing after the rival. Your bell manages to find the gold first, but the ghost of the old miner appears and lights off a blast of dynamite, which rocks the diving bell. The captain hurries the bell back to the dock, but hits the dock, piercing a hole in the side of the diving bell, causing water to rush in. Everyone is hurriedly evacuated. I thought it was a great ride, very convincing, and really loved it. Sadly, it was replaced not too many years later with a “roaring rapids” ride. Many longtime SDC fans, including me, really miss Rube Dugan’s Diving Bell and remember it fondly. The story is that SDC went to Disney in Florida with their idea for the attraction to consult on the feasibility of it. Supposedly, Disney told them it could never be done on the budget they had for it. Thankfully, the SDC folks didn’t accept that answer and made it happen!

    When I was in college in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Six Flags Over Texas put in a movie simulator ride. It was nothing fancy, just a box theater on gimbals in which they showed P.O.V. film footage of roller coasters and other fast moving things. I suppose it showed the potential of the simulator ride technology if done on a higher level.

    • willdoo

      I loved the Divin Bell at SDC. My Family went to SDC for years and years. Dugan’s Bell is the attraction that began my interest in theme parks etc. I first went on it in ’78 If I remember right. The last part where the water rushes in was maybe one of the best “Park” experiences ever.
      Boy did Disney miss out on this onr

  • Mousecat

    I stand corrected. Thank you Robert Roe. He pointed out that the CN Tower in Toronto was the first to have a motion simulator in the modern age. The Tour of the Universe opened in 1985 and used a Boeing 747 simulator built by the same firm that Disney used for Star Tours.

    Great stuff. This is why I write this column.


  • Sam,

    A fantastic piece on Hale’s Tours. The system actually premiered a year early at the Louisiana Purchase International Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. And Adolph Zuker was not just a rider, he was actually a Hale’s Tours franchise owner, with locations in Manhattan, Pittsburgh, and Coney Island. In his autobiography, he wrote: “When first viewing Cinerama many decades later, I mystified my companions by laughing. It was necessary to explain that I was back in Hale’s Tours.”

    Joe Kleiman
    InPark Magazine

    • Mousecat

      Thanks Joe.

      And Sam Warner was a projectionist. That his were he learned his mechanical chops and felt confident to sink the family fortune into sound films.

      Here is what I am trying to figure out. Hale did have a fire fighting show at the fair. He was the fire chief. They used to put out the (fake) fire of a building. However, the patent for the ride was dated September 19, 1905. From what I can tell it was first installed at Electric Park in Kansas City. I have poured through guidebooks of the St. Louis Exposition and there is not listing for the ride or by its other name – the Pleasure Railway. If you know more, please let me know.


  • Algernon

    Great article. Makes me wish they’d recreate a Hale’s Tours at DCA, as an exhibit of some of Walt Disney’s early influences. It would be great to go on it, and see it exactly as it was.

  • Mousecat

    Here is a thought. If Disney wants to really wow the world, recreate the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Stick all sorts of rides inside of the huge show buildings. People would come by the millions.


  • Mousecat
  • WDWHound

    The big rocket that was on display in Astroland Park in Coney island started life as a simulator ride in 1962. It was later mounted to serve as a sign atop a burger stand, but the inside was left intact. Here is a link with a bit of history on the ride.


    The rocket was eventually stored by the city after Astroland Park closed in 2008, but now Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park has plans to bring it out of storage and restore it to be a simulator ride again. Here’s a link on the restoration plans.


  • almandot

    Was hoping this article would continue onto many of the implementations since star tours.. from body wars to the fake star speeder that took you on roller coasters and bobsleds in your local arcade to star trek experience etc..

  • fnord

    I have to mention ”a trip to the moon” which was created for the pan american exposition in buffalo in 1901, appeared at steeplechase in 1902, then became an anchor attraction at luna park.
    people loaded into a space ship, then enjoyed a simulated space flight, landed on the moon, went through caves to meetthe man in the moon. In the final room, guests were reminded that the moon is made of cheese, and were encouraged to pick some off the wall to eat. that sounds nasty, but the attraction sounds fun