5 Facts About Disney’s Monorails
Sometimes a structure or an attraction becomes more than the sum of its parts. Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth in Epcot, and the Tree Of Life in Animal Kingdom have all become synonymous with their respective parks, acting as symbols of the magic and wonder found within. In a similar fashion, the monorail system at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, has become a Disney icon. Its sleek design evokes the possibilities of a world made better through a blend of imagination and technical know how. In a way, it is symbolic of everything that Walt Disney hoped to achieve.
Here are five facts about the development of Disney’s monorails.
1. Germany and Alweg
In October of 1958, Walt Disney encountered the German monorail system created by the Alweg Research Corporation while traveling in Cologne. An avid fan of both trains and innovation, Disney decided to bring the transportation system to his Disneyland Park.
Alweg, founded in 1953, grew out of the Transit Railway Study Group, founded two years prior. The company pioneered the straddle beam monorail, demonstrating their first model in 1952. While not the first monorail system ever created, Alweg introduced the concept of a monorail that ran with tires that run on either side of a beam to move the cars along, all held up by concrete columns.
2. Bob Gurr
Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr was given the task of designing the monorail for the Disneyland park. Gurr took his inspiration from Buck Rogers Cartoons and the Boeing B47 Bomber, creating the design at his kitchen table.
Gurr later designed the Monorail at the Walt Disney World Park, updating the look of the vehicles. In later interviews, Gurr recalled that the MARK IV Monorail design came from a Lear Jet that Gurr encountered once in Kansas.
3. Nixon and Opening Day
Disneyland’s Monorail opened on June 14, 1959, becoming the first monorail in the United States and the first daily operating Monorail in the Western Hemisphere.
Vice President Richard Nixon attended the opening of the Disneyland Monorail. Walt Disney asked Bob Gurr to drive the vehicle and, according to Gurr, they took off with Nixon onboard before the Secret Service had time to join him.
4. Magic Kingdom
The Walt Disney World monorail opened with the resort in October of 1971. The original construction featured ten trains with five cars each. Two tracks ran, an express line and one for Disney resort hotels. There were four stations for the monorail: at the Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, the Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
Epcot opened in 1982 and a new monorail track connected it to the Transportation and Ticket Center. During the park’s construction, Florida residents could request a complimentary ticket on the new monorail line to see the construction of the new park.
Initially, plans were also made for Epcot to serve as an area for research and development for different forms of transportation. The Walt Disney Company believed that the monorail system could be sold outside of the resorts for use in metropolitan areas. They even created a detailed informational sales booklet on the Mark IV Monorail, but attempts to commercialize and spread the use of monorails never caught on in the United States.