Satellite – View of America

by Todd James Pierce

By now, there are very few areas in Disneyland, back in the 1950s, of which I haven’t seen clear pictures. There’re still things on my list: such as the interior of the Hollywood Maxwell shop on Main Street and various interiors of the original dark rides. But up on the blog today is an image that I’ve never seen before—at least not with such clarity. It’s the exterior entrance to Satellite – View of America, probably taken in 1959.

I think that most fans know that, in 1954, Walt Disney used his weekly TV show to introduce America to the concept of Disneyland. The show reminded viewers that certain areas of the Park, such as the Jungle River Cruise, were based on Disney film properties, such as the True Life Adventure series. (The connection was so strong that, during the park’s early planning stage, the original name for Adventureland, was True Life Adventureland.) These Disney episodes that included previously released films and animated cartoons were mixed with new stories originally produced for TV.  In two instances, these new shows proved so popular that they influenced how the park was designed.

The first of these examples is known to many fans: Davy Crockett was a national sensation, with an expensive replica of Davy installed in Frontierland in July 1955 and then in December the riverboats from Davy’s second adventure were placed on the water alongside the Mark Twain Steamboat.

"View America by day and night...from the Atlantic to Pacific seaboards, from the Gulf to the Northern Lights, aboard Disneyland S-1 as you ride the simulated orbit of a satellite in flight on the fringe of the cosmic void"

“View America by day and night…from the Atlantic to Pacific seaboards, from the Gulf to the Northern Lights, aboard Disneyland S-1 as you ride the simulated orbit of a satellite in flight on the fringe of the cosmic void.”

The second example, however, is not as well known. In 1954 Walt asked Ward Kimball to develop a show that would somehow relate to the theme of “Tomorrowland.” Kimball, already interested in space travel and even extraterrestrial life, put together a script and layout team that created a show on new rocket technology that would take man into space. To accomplish this, the studio hired a German-American expert on rocket technology, Willy Ley, as a full-time employee. They also contracted, through MCA, to hire another German-American, now America’s leading rocket engineer, Werner von Braun as a consultant and onscreen expert.

Spaceman K-7

Spaceman K-7

This single show on space exploration soon expanded to three (really, three-and-a-half) shows. But as a byproduct of the German-American brain trust taking up residence at the studio, the WED team relied on them to create two unique experiences in Tomorrowland. They tapped Willy Ley to create the original Rocket to the Moon script and also to consult on the original film presentation that would be used inside the ride building. They relied on Werner von Braun’s theories about rockets and satellites to create Space Station X-1, which presented  a view of earth from space. Remember: this attraction opened pre-Sputnik, before the Russians successfully launched the first satellite. Three years after the park opened, after America (under von Braun’s direction) placed its first satellite in orbit, Disney revised the attraction, using new information about our planet, into Satellite – View of America.

The new version lasted less than two years, closing in 1960. But it is brought back to life today. Inside the ticket booth is Spaceman K-7. (Oddly, of the two other photos I’ve seen of Satellite, K-7 is chilling in the ticket booth in one of those as well.)

So get out your 10 cents or “A” ticket. And enjoy the ride.

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That’s it for today.  Remember, even when the blog is slow, there’s always something happening over on our Facebook Group Page.  See you over there, TJP






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