The Astro Jets was an off-the-shelf rotojet ride manufactured by Casper claws in West Germany that opened on March 24, 1956 in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Due to a conflict with United Airlines, the official Airline of Disneyland, the attraction's name was changed to the Tomorrowland Jets. American Airlines had begun calling its new Boeing 707 jet airliners Astro Jets. The Tomorrowland Jets closed September 5, 1966. As part of the new Tomorrowland the name was changed to Rocket Jets and built on top of the People Mover loading station to save space.
Skyway System, Disneyland
Walt heard of a Skyway system being tested in Switzerland in the fall of 1955, and naturally had to have one. By November of 1955, Walt figured out where the ride would go, and had the Von Roll Iron Works engineers work with designer John Hench to create the attraction. Walt purchased a used 1947 Type 101 Sidechair #5, which was one of the Von Roll prototypes.
Opening ceremonies were presided over by Walt himself and Dr. Walter Smidt, the Swiss Consul General of Los Angeles. There were 42 round gondolas that could carry 2 guests at a time, seated in fiberglass patio chairs bolted into the floor. Moving at a slow and steady 4 mph, gondolas were dispatched approximately every 9 seconds.
The Skyway gave guests an overview of the park between two stations: one in Fantasyland (where the drive system was located) and the other in Tomorrowland (where 35,000 pounds of ballast kept the 2400' long cables taut). In between was the peak, a support tower located on Holiday Hill (basically a mound of dirt).
In 1959, the Matterhorn was added in the path of the Skyway, complete with 2 holes for the gondolas to pass through. The original round buckets were replaced in 1965 for the Tencennial Celebration. Each bucket was now able to carry four guests. The grips on the cars also changed; the original 10 sheave rollerbatteries and the entire tower in Tomorrowland were removed. During the Fantasyland remodel, the towers there were beefed up with extra supports at the urging of Von Roll Tramways.
On April 17, 1994, a 30 year old man jumped from the Skyway, landing in a tree, relatively unharmed. The Skyway was removed 7 months later in November, partially because it was too costly to make safety upgrades. People also threw objects and spit at guests below as they went overhead. For the final ride, Mickey & Minnie made the last crossing as guests watched below. When the Skyway closed, the holes in the Matterhorn were filled in and the supports were dismantled within weeks.
Another reason it closed was because the ride was in technical violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It was very difficult to load and unload mobility-impaired guests (guests had to step up when boarding and down when de-boarding), and this usually required having to stop the ride. Furthermore, wheelchairs could not be loaded onboard because the vehicles were too small. Approximately 150 million guests rode the Skyway.
Since an empty building was out of the question, the Imagineers had to come up with a replacement show. With the upcoming Bicentennial as an inspiration, Marc Davis whipped up a spectacular musical revue, complete with 114 singing animals that represented the forefront of audio-animatronic technology.
Davis used characters from an unfinished movie that was to be called “Chanticleer.” The use of costumed animals instead of people helped hide any limitations in movement that might have occurred. Del Monte stepped in as the new sponsor. The show moved guests on a history of America by using more than 40 musical numbers, including songs from the Old South sung by the Swamp Boys, the Old West, the Gay Nineties, and even “today” (which seemed more like yesterday!).
Songs for this show included “Yankee Doodle,” “Joy to the World,” “Old Chisholm Trail,” “Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay,” and a pig singing “Bill Bailey” (voiced by Golden Horseshoe legend Betty Taylor).
Hosts Sam the eagle (voiced by Burl Ives) & Ollie the owl (Sam Edwards) sang “Yankee Doodle” each time the carousel rotated to introduce a new musical act. It had a fairly long run and didn’t close until April 10, 1988. It has been said that Marc Davis was extremely disappointed when it closed, especially after all the work and creativity he pumped into this show to get it ready in time for a very short deadline. Although it was a rowsing show, this salute to the Great American Songbook really was somewhat out of place in Tomorrowland.
Most of the “animals” in this attraction found a new home at “Splash Mountain” in Critter Country once this show closed.
Beginning at the New York World’s Fair and then relocated to Anaheim in 1967, this Tomorrowland attraction was sponsored by General Electric. The last Anaheim show was in 1988.
Walt Wednesday #4
The entrance of Tomorrowland on Disneyland’s opening day, July 17, 1955. Notice the large crane lifting a cameraman on a platform for the ABC broadcast. He may have had the best E-Ticket thrill all day.
Jan. 15, 1955 - Walt Disney gave the order to go ahead with the construction of Tomorrowland for Disneyland’s opening after previously putting it on hold because there wasn’t enough time. In addition to wanting to offer more attractions to his guests on opening day, Walt was motivated by the sponsorship deal they had inked with TWA for the Rocket to the Moon attraction. One of Disneyland’s early icons was the Moonliner rocket, which stood outside the attraction and was the tallest structure in the entire park at the time, standing eight feet taller than Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
The design of the attraction’s building and theater was one of the first projects Disney Legend John Hench would work on at the park. Hench worked with famed German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun on the design of the Moonliner. In his book, Designing Disney, Hench explains that “I wanted an elegant shape that suggested high speed even though it would be stationary. The sides of the seventy-six-foot-tall rocket were actually straight — only the top and bottom sections were tapered — and I was fascinated by how people read the rocket as a continuous curved form even though it really wasn’t.”
1 - Rocket to the Moon and Moonliner
2 - Rocket to the Moon construction
3 - Moonliner construction
4 - Early attraction concept art by John Hench
5 - John Hench and Walt Disney
To prepare for the filming of the Tomorrowland episode for the Disneyland television series Walt met with famed rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and Disney Legend Ward Kimball. According to Kimball, as von Braun described the future of space “Walt listened wide-eyed, his mouth open in pure rapture at what he was hearing.” Walt was incredibly optimistic about how science could and would improve our future. He said “Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the space age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come.”
America Sings - Tomorrowland, Disneyland
America Sings was an attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, United States, from 1974 to 1988. It featured a cast of audio animatronics animals that entertained the audience by singing songs from various periods in America's musical history, often in a humorous fashion.
Closed: April 10, 1988
Opened: June 29, 1974
Replaced: Carousel of Progress
Replaced by: Innoventions; Star Wars Launch Bay
Park: Disneyland Park
America Sings opened on June 29, 1974, replacing the General Electric-sponsored Carousel of Progress attraction, which had moved to the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in 1973. America Sings used the same Carousel Theater as its predecessor. The building had an outer ring of six theaters, connected by divider walls, that revolved mechanically about every four minutes around the six fixed stages in the center of the building.
Written primarily by Marc Davis and Al Bertino, America Sings was comparable to Disneyland's Country Bear Jamboree, in that it featured a singing cast of audio-animatronics animals. The show's Masters of Ceremonies were an American bald eagle named Sam (voiced by Burl Ives) and an owl named Ollie (voiced by Sam Edwards). The image of Eagle Sam was designed by Disney animator Marc Davis, as were the other characters. Eagle Sam is completely separate from the Sam the Olympic Eagle character designed a decade later by C. Robert Moore (also a Disney employee) for the 1984 Summer Olympics, or the Muppet Sam the Eagle.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".