Thursday, January 4, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Magic Highway USA

© Gakwer

Well, it's 2018! An old year is over, and new one has just begun. This makes it the opportune time to contemplate the new year and what the future has to offer. Sometimes that means taking a look back to see where you started so you know where you're going. So all through the month of January, I'll be dedicating these posts to retro visions of the future by Disney, giving us glimpses of a new tomorrow through the lens of old yesterday.

Walt Disney was enthralled with breakthroughs in science and technology, and he loved to envision how these developments could potentially shape our future. One of the venues through which he shared his futuristic visions were Tomorrowland and his original concept of Epcot Center.

Another venue was through his Disneyland television series. Every week, Disney would often share an educational segment that exposited on the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs, with segments that envisioned what futures these developments could create for us.

Some of the more popular “Tomorrowland” episodes, as they were often called, involved space travel, which was then still in its infancy, with segments on the prospect of travels into space, the moon, and mars and beyond. But the episode I wish to share for this post involves travel, not in space, but on the road—specifically, the highway: Disney’s Magic Highway USA.

To learn more about this special, click READ MORE:

© Pintrest

The episode was an educational documentary created in 1958—two years before the inception of the Interstate Highway System—that showcased the history of roads and transportation in America, which included a segment on how roads are built and—the most famous part of the episode—an animated segment showcasing the future of transportation.

It’s always fascinating to look back into the past to see how the future was envisioned, and a lot of these predictions are interesting, if not farfetched to say the least: color-coded lanes for easier navigation, roads that heat up to melt ice and snow and light up in the night, and, of course, flying cars!

Of course, as depressing as it may be to realize that more than half a century has passed since this animated segment first aired and many of these innovations are still yet to be, it’s encouraging to know that a few of these predictions have since become reality.

For starters, the episode correctly predicted that extended highway systems would allow for more urbanization and further commutes. As the narrator explains, “The shapes of our cities will change as expanded highway transportation decentralizes our population centers into vast urban areas. With the advent of wider and faster expressways, the commuter's radius will be extended by many miles.”

Also, many technological innovations such as electric dashboards and rear-view cameras have now become commonplace within modern automobiles.

We may not be hosting business conferences in our cars, but such video conferencing is possible though technology such as Skype—and of course, we can always remain in contact with the office while on the go with our cell phones. (Just make sure you’re using hands-free!)

We may not have highways that span entire oceans, but we have a few smaller scale, if not equally impressive, bridges and tunnel systems that span longer distances, such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and—a much more impressive example—the Chunnel that stretches underneath the English Channel to connect England with mainland Europe.

And while we may not have punch cards that program cars to select destinations, GPS technology provides us with step-by-step directions to where we want to go—and with the current development in self-driving vehicles, we may finally one day be able to program directions into our cars and let them drive us to where we want to go, just like the cars in this cartoon.

Of course, it would be nice to have roads that light up at night and melt snow and ice, though we very much have something like that with—SOLAR FREAKING ROADWAYS!


  1. Magic Highways, U.S.A. was my favorite of the Tomorrowland episodes on the Disneyland TV show. Specifically the segment you feature here on your post today.

    It was also Tomorrowland 1967 at Disneyland and Tomorrowland 1975 at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom that captured my imagination the most at the parks.

    Nicely written post and a perfect start to your "Disney Futurism" series in January. Thanks, Disney Dudebro!

    1. Personally, I prefer the Mars and Beyond special, mostly because the idea of traveling to Mars still remains to be something that has yet to be achieved, unlike traveling to the moon and back.

      Also, it featured a very funny cartoon segment that still gets played at the Sci-Fi Drive-In restaurant in Hollywood Studios. :P

    2. It's funny that you bring up traveling to the moon and back. It's true that select individuals traveled to the moon and back, but the majority of the human race has not traveled into space. So from my viewpoint, space travel including going to the moon is still something of the future in commercial space travel.

      I used to think Disney's explanation of the "Flight to the Moon" being replaced with "Mission to Mars" is because we've already been to the Moon was kind of bogus because the space travel they were portraying at the park was commercial space travel which hadn't even happened yet and still hasn't happened. Select individuals have been to the moon and back, but not the general public/population.

      I do love "Mars and Beyond". And those alien creature and plant life animated segments are wonderful! I also love "Man in Space" and "Man and the Moon" episodes as well which come off as more scientific than "Mars and Beyond" which delves into fantasy/sci-fi a bit. What I'm saying is I love them all.

      I probably loved Magic Highways, U.S.A the most because I love city and transportation design as that fascinated me as a child. From the Magic Highways, U.S.A. standpoint we are starting to see self-driving cars come into service. That will be an interesting development to watch. Again, I'm really looking forward to more of your essays and thoughts on Disney futurism.

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