The Monsanto House of the Future Story

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Samland

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Published on March 06, 2014 at 2:00 am with 16 Comments

Join us for a classic SAMLAND story about Disney’s all-plastic house. The Monsanto House of the Future is an enduring memory. Millions of people associate that attraction with the optimistic future evangelized by Walt Disney. Of course, in retrospect, an all plastic house may not seem like a warm and inviting place to live. But for the modernists of the mid 1950′s the house was a revelation. This former Disneyland attraction still holds a soft spot in the hearts of Disney fans some 45 years after its demise. Many of the aspects of the house remain modern even by today’s standards.

There is an ancient Chinese Proverb that states, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Legendary Imagineer John Hench said, “Walt believed that the experience was most important. People could always read about ideas or see photographs of new concepts. They would find it more compelling if they went through it themselves. Once people experienced something first-hand they could go home to their own communities and make changes.” According to Hench, Walt said, “That experiences were the only thing that you really own. They were yours.”


Monsanto wanted to expand its presence in the home construction industry. By 1953, they contracted with a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The group included architects Richard Hamilton and Marvin Goody from the Department of Architecture and engineer Albert G.H. Dietz from Plastic Research Laboratory at the Department of Building Engineering and Construction. Monsanto’s Plastics Division sponsored the project.

The goal was to design a house that would explore the maximum use of plastics as a material for home construction and to demonstrate, “Plastics used boldly creatively as building materials.” The challenge was to not simply replace wooden components with plastic ones but to find new and innovative ways to exploit the material unique characteristics, structural, and aesthetic qualities.

In 1954, Douglas Haskell of the American Institute of Architects asked, “In architecture, will atomic processes create a new ‘plastic’ order?” He thought the future meant that homes would not be massed produced like automobiles but would come from scientific laboratories.

The house was a modular, polyester structure reinforced with fibrous glass. The materials and methodology were similar to those developed by Charles Eames for his molded plastic chairs of the 1950s.



The design was a white cruciform with four gracefully curved fiberglass wings cantilevered from a 256-square-foot central core. The central core also housed the air temperature control units. Each wing was eight feet tall, sixteen feet wide, and sixteen feet long. Overall, the house was 1,280-square feet and had three bedrooms, two baths, a living room, a dining room, a family room, and a kitchen.

The Imagineers chose a cruciform because it, “assures full daylight for every room, reduces inter-room noise, and provides added privacy for various family activities.” The design allowed for easy expansion. John Hench said, “The bottom was a “compression member” and the top had a “tension ring” that the modules hooked on to and hung from. You could hang more pairs of them as needed.” John Hench added, “There was virtually no bad location for building it…in a rocky location or on a hillside, the 16’ by 16’ pedestal would have been easy to work with.” You could even rotate it on the pedestal to change the views. Monsanto described the house as “strangely graceful.”


Disneyland opened the front door of the Monsanto House of the Future to guests on June 12, 1957. The attraction was free and it was located at a prime spot off the Plaza Hub, adjacent to the Circarama Theater. This location would ensure a huge audience. At night, when the home would glow with all of the light on, it added a special magic to the area. The attraction remained opened until 1967. It was estimated that more than 20 million guests walked through the house.

Disney proudly proclaimed, “Hardly a natural material appears anywhere in the House.” Virtually every surface was synthetic. By the early 1960s, fifteen percent of plastic production was dedicated to home building.

In 1953, MIT produced a report called Plastics in Housing to explore expanded uses of the material. The objective was “to develop plastics as a sound engineering materials and help the construction industry utilize new designs and materials to achieve production line methods and facilities.” The demonstration house was a “dramatic attack” on how to increase the acceptance of plastics as a construction material.

The tour started in the dining and family room. All of the furniture was ultra-modern and made of plastic materials. The hope was the home would stimulate your imagination.


For many, the highlight was the kitchen. The Kelvinator Division of American Motors Corporation designed the “step saver” kitchen. It was dubbed the “Atoms for Living Kitchen.” Many of the appliances either dropped from cabinets or popped up from the counter. A pop up dishwasher used ultrasonic waves to clean and would also be the storage unit for all of your plastic dishes. Instead of one large refrigerator freezer unit, this house featured three cooling units called “cold zones” that lowered from ceiling cabinets. One zone for regular refrigeration, one for frozen, and one for irradiated foods. Even the storage shelves lowered from the ceiling unit just by pushing a button. Rising from the counter was a microwave oven.

Sylvania Electric Products Company provided adjustable lighting behind polarized plastic ceiling tiles lights the room. Bell Telephone installed the push-button speakerphone with “preset” dialing.

The climate control system would allow for different temperatures in different zones within the house. There were even buttons where you could push the scent of roses or the ocean into any room.

The children’s room was divided in two by a sliding panel, one for the boy and one for the girl. Plastics allowed for “tough durable materials that are easily washable.” Both children shared a bathroom. The bathroom featured a movable sink that rose and fell at the push of a button.

Your next stop is the master bedroom and bathroom. For the lady, she has a vanity with a push button speakerphone. The master bath is modeled in two pieces. Along with the built-in electric razor and toothbrush is another hands-free push button phone mounted on the wall. Except, this phone also contains a closed circuit television so you can see who is at the front door. The ceiling lighting was adjustable and had panelescent panels, which act as a nightlight. There was even a sound system in the shower.

Finally, there is a spacious living room featuring a giant, non-operational, wall-mounted television screen and built-in stereo system. John Hench designed the “Alpha” chair, the first contoured chair that adjusts automatically and a phone and music system with built in speakers. Facing Sleeping Beauty Castle was ceiling to floor thermal pane picture windows featuring decorative laminated safety glass.


In an unexpected way to prove the durability of plastic, there is a legend that Disney had to go through an extraordinary effort to remove the attraction. The original plan was a one-day demolition. When the wrecking ball just bounced off the side, a new plan was drafted. For two weeks, they resorted to hacksaws to take the house apart piece by piece, according to John Hench.

For Walt Disney’s proposed city, EPCOT, illustrations showed low-density single-family residential architecture that was more traditional. Instead of a neighborhood of space-age modular homes, the drawings suggest forward-looking Mid-Century ranch-style homes that might resemble the very popular homes by Joseph Eichler, a very popular Californian home builder.

Eichler hired some of the best residential architects such as A. Quincy Jones FAIA. His homes became known as “California Modern” and featured glass walls, post-and-beam construction, and open floorplans. The exteriors featured low-sloping A-framed roofs with simple, clean facades. Many of the homes had skylights and floor to ceiling glass windows. Some even had enclosed private courtyards. The houses were airy in comparison to the suburban homes being built at the time.

It was suggested that each home would generate some of its own electricity. Solid waste would be gathered and deposited in an automated vacuum collection system, which are pneumatic tubes that send the trash to a central collection point. Aerojet-General was responsible for the design of this system when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.


Would you live in this all-plastic house? Are there elements of the design that you think would make for happy living today?

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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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  • JiminyCricketFan

    Perhaps as kid the thing about the home that intrigued me the most was that it was off the ground. Kids love tree houses, and since it appears to hover over the ground it always felt cool. I really did not care that the house was plastic, but since it appears to rise off the ground, it seemed futuristic.

    • Algernon

      Yes, off the ground is nice, especially if there is ever a flood. Somebody ought to rebuild it, maybe in Las Vegas, as an attraction I wouldn’t mind having a house like that. I just wouldn’t want all the mechanical things that went up and down–more stuff to break down. These days, the whole top could be solar panels. It would also be a good use for recycled plastic.

  • Big D

    I’m bummed I never got to see that. If they just updated it a little bit (and incorporated more eco-friendly features) I think it would seem futuristic even by today’s standards.

  • Disneykin Kid

    Maybe they should build these for guests at Walt Disney World, like the Treehouse villas they used to have. It could have a retro Tomorrowland theme. But it probably would be very expensive per night. Or they could build it again at Disneyland, as an additional dream suite, but during the day when it’s not occupied, it could be an attraction.

  • fnord

    I waited in line to see this attraction in 1963, because I was a third grader, and my mom thought we should see it, or I would have preferred another spin on the flying saucers or Matterhorn.
    Anyway, the interior felt cramped, particularly
    with all the people corralled in the line. The decor seemed modern, but kind of
    cheap looking.
    We weren’t wealthy by a long shot, but when I saw the cramped quarters in the
    kids’ rooms, it made me appreciate my big room back home.
    I’ve since studied some of Bucky Fuller’s pre fab designs for homes,and his
    dymaxiom(sp??) home, which was also a raised structure on a central core, is
    more to my liking, but I have yet to experience actually walking through the
    The last remaining dymaxion house by Fuller is at the Henry Ford Museum in
    Dearborn, Michigan.

  • Trevor

    Lots of the stuff here is definitely cool, and with modern technology it could be fantastic. That is, as long as it doesn’t add to many steps to things. Sometimes pulling open a cabinet door is just more practical than waiting for something to drop down at the push of a button.

    I also don’t buy the plastic plates situation. I thing the relegation of plastic dining-wear to kids parties and camping proves that people prefer proper glass. Similarly, I don’t know if the fridges would meet the demands of a modern family.

    That all being said, this was all done in the 60′s. Think of what they could do now.

  • Dusty Sage

    I love the design of the House of the Future. Artistic, functional, and really quite beautiful. However, the notion of all that plastic is sort of repugnant by today’s standards. Build me a house similar to this out of today’s materials, and I think I could live in it. How fun would it be to have a house which rotates to chase the sun!

    It sure would be neat to see what Disney’s Imagineers and partners could come up with for a modern version of the House of the Future (and not the pathetic Microsoft version of the house of today in Innoventions). ;-)

  • ralzap

    Samland, I know this is an old article, but it is great. The price of a gallon of gas around then would have been 33 Cents. Dating myself. Except for dyeing in the terrible fire, and the lack of petroleum, it would have been great future. It is funny how we have in some ways come full circle. Organic, natural, That is why tomorrow is so hard to figure out today. Tomorrow land has corn growing in it, not the future Monsanto had in mind unless it is genetically altered corn.
    thanks for the great article.

  • animatronic

    As someone who always loved all things – FUTURE- I would have loved to have seen this place. It reminds me of those olde Tex Avery cartoons – “House of Tomorrow”, “Car of Tomorrow”, etc. Of course it would be gross to live in an all plastic house, but it did have a cool modern shape, was elevated off the ground, and had cool gadgets. They should build a new one and put it in Tomorrowland.

  • Princess Victoria

    I love reading about the House of the Future. I never experienced it, as it was gone long before I was around, but it (like much of classic Tomorrowland) is quite fascinating to me. What’s great about it, beyond all the little innovations it had in it, is that the attraction as a whole was something that was really based on out-of-the-box thinking. It was something everyone could see and appreciate, perhaps with some excitement and anticipation for what they future might bring. Today’s Dream Home in Innoventions is just the opposite. Not only is most of the technology within it pretty common, but it is also a very expensive-looking house that for the average guest, is most likely out of reach. It’s sort of like displaying a Lamborgini instead of Hondas on the second level. Sure, it’s a nice car with cool gadgetry, but it’s not what your average Joe is going to be found cruising around in.

  • billyjobobb

    1) I can only imagine what this would be worth today if they hadn’t demolished it.

    2) Is the foundation really still there?

    • Princess Victoria

      Yes, the foundation support you see in the photos is still there. It’s painted green and serves as a planter, sitting in the middle of Pixie Hollow.

  • jazzbanjo

    Didn’t the wrecking ball bounce of the side when they tried to demolish it? It was that strong.

  • Marko50

    Yeah. Memories. I remember thinking what would I do in this house with all these people walking through it? I’d have to stay here all day so nobody snitched nothin’!

    Wouldn’t have to worry about it nowadays. My current self needs a wheelchair to get around Disney; I wouldn’t even be able to visit it. ;-)

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