Monsanto and Disneyland's Adventure Thru Inner Spaceby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
I wrote a book called Secret Stories of Extinct Disneyland that was filled with dozens of two page chapters devoted to attractions, entertainment, restaurants and more that no longer exist at Disneyland.
While I had the good fortune to have actually experienced most of those things I documented, the challenge was how to accurately compress enough important information into less than a thousand words a chapter so that those Disney fans who were unfamiliar with those experiences could better understand and appreciate what they were like.
This week I decided I wanted to expand one of those entries over three-fold the length by utilizing some material I have from the original training manual issued to Disneyland cast members in 1967 along with my own research.
Adventure Thru Inner Space that was located at the front of Tomorrowland in Disneyland from August 1967 to September 1985 gave guests a chance to be miniaturized "beyond the limits of normal magnification."
The attraction was part of the new Tomorrowland that opened in 1967 and the building took the location of the former Monsanto Hall of Chemistry and the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea walk-through exhibit.
Because of Monsanto's participation, the attraction required none of the famous Disneyland Alphabet tickets but was completely free although younger children had to use a special coupon in their ticket book if they wanted to ride unsupervised by their parents. It became a "C" Ticket attraction in 1972 and Monsanto dropped its sponsorship in 1977 although the ride continued to operate for another eight years but with the Monsanto references removed.
Guests boarded Disney's first theme park Omnimover vehicles called "Atomobiles" and went through the "Mighty Microscope" (12-feet high, 37-feet long) into the microscopic world of a snowflake.
The vehicles continued to seemingly diminish in size while guests heard the audio log of the first explorer (actor Paul Frees) helping them understand what they were seeing around them on the 682-foot winding loop of track.
Eventually, the guests had shrunk to such a tiny size that they confronted the nucleus of the atom (containing a strobe light inside) and had to quickly return to normal size as the snowflake began to melt and find themselves once again in a "world of comfort and convenience, made possible through miracles from molecules."
This phrase inspired the theme song Miracles from Molecules for the attraction written by the Sherman Brothers at the request of Walt Disney.
"Miracles from molecules around us everywhere. There are miracles from molecules in the Earth, the sea, the air.
"Every atom is a world, an infinity unfurled, a world of inner space without an end. A world of mystery, of endless energy with treasures more than man can ever spend.
"A never-ending search is on by men who dare and plan making modern miracles from molecules for man!"
That upbeat song was heard at the beginning and end of the ride. The rest of the background score was composed by Buddy Baker.
Even as early as 1957 and the episode of the Disney weekly television show entitled Our Friend, the Atom (January 23, 1957), Walt had considered some type of attraction at Disneyland dealing with exploring the world of atoms.
Working with Dr. Charles Allen Thomas, the chairman of the Monsanto Company (that manipulated molecules), the Imagineers decided that frozen water would be the easiest and most understandable concept for guests when explaining molecules. Imagineer John Hench did some initial concept sketches and it was considered naming the attraction the Magic Microscope or Micro World.
The distinctive blue cocoon-shaped Omnimovers not only moved guests quickly and efficiently through the attraction (over 3,000 an hour), but controlled what the audience would see. The curving sides of the vehicle prevented the guests from looking anywhere else besides where the vehicle was facing, as well as creating an acoustical chamber so that the narration could be heard more clearly through individual speakers in each vehicle.
"We are hoping the excitement generated in our attraction by the creativity of many Disney artists will bring alive the excitement of Inner Space," Thomas said.
Those Disney artists included Imagineer Claude Coats who primarily designed much of the attraction and was known to concentrate on the environment rather than characters in his storytelling of Disney theme park attractions.
To make the free attraction more intimate, the Imagineers placed objects like hanging snowflakes within easy reach of the guests in the Atomobiles, which was a huge mistake.
People grabbed at items and even tried to physically destroy them. So the Imagineers came up with the concept now called "Envelope of Protection" meaning when designing future attractions to put things well out of easy reach of guests in a ride vehicle.
The darkness and intimacy of the attraction encouraged everything from covert smoking of marijuana to amorous antics. When the attraction finally closed, an angry guest wrote a complaint letter that included the interesting statement: "How dare you remove it! My son was conceived on that ride!"
The attraction was replaced by Star Tours. The latest version, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, features the Mighty Microscope visible when escaping the under-construction Death Star above Geonosis.
When the attraction opened, Disneyland University put together a 14-page spiral bound booklet to acquaint cast members with the attraction.
"You now become a host or hostess who will reflect the Monsanto image of personal friendliness in an organization which is a scientific world pioneer in that 'other frontier'…inner space. We welcome you as a member of the Monsanto/Disney team with the hope that you'll have an enjoyable and fulfilling experience hosting this new attraction…Adventure Thru Inner Space.
"Remember…every day and every hour…that you now represent Monsanto…its name…its product…and its 60,000 people throughout the world. You'll want to know about this exciting attraction…about Monsanto products…about the Monsanto organization…and its interesting history."
The booklet went into great detail about the story of the attraction and the story of Monsanto following Walt Disney's personal philosophy that cast members either needed to know the answers or know where to get the answers if guests asked a question.
The following is the overview of the attraction as contained in the booklet:
"An unusual experience begins in the pre-show area at the moment Disneyland's guests enter the Monsanto Pavilion. To the strains of the Monsanto theme song, Miracles from Molecules, guests will proceed toward a Mighty Microscope, the primary focal point of the attraction.
"On a walk-way of Monsanto product they move past a huge electronically annotated control board that will track their progress through various phases of their journey into the vastness of inner space found within a tiny fragment of a snowflake.
"Monsanto's guests will board one in an endless chain of ATOMOBILES from a platform that rotates at the exact speed as the approaching vehicles and proceed into the eye-piece of the mighty microscope.
"To the people waiting to board, it appears that the Atomobiles are actually becoming smaller as they proceed along a translucent section of the tube.
"A pulsing beam of light from the "objective-lens" end of the Mighty Microscope pierces a transparent sphere containing a swirling snow storm, creating the illusion that the Atomobiles have actually been reduced to the scale of a snowflake.
"The sounds of the tracking crew can be heard in the background speaking in their technical jargon as they establish contact with Atomobiles penetrating into the vastness of inner space.
"The show then proceeds through the following acts:
- Act 1…The Journey Into a Snowflake
- Act 2…The Universe of the Molecule
- Act 3…The Vastness of Inner Space
- Act 4…The Return to Normal
- Post-Show…Miracles from Molecules Product Display"
The interest in the attraction was not just that it was free but that it was like being inside a science-fiction film from the 1960s based not on speculation but on actual science. It seemed similar to the film The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) or one of the nine special television episodes in the Bell System Science Series.
In addition, having Paul Frees as the narrator brought to mind science-fiction including his narration of the Disney "Man in Space" trilogy of television shows in the 1950s and his work in George Pal films as a radio reporter announcer in War of the Worlds (1953) and the "talking rings" in The Time Machine (1960) or his on-screen appearances as a scientists in movies like The Thing from Another World (1951) and Space Master X-7 (1958).
For those who never got a chance to ride this attraction, here is a brief summary of each act using the narration from the actual script:
Act I: Journey Into a Snowflake
As the Atomobiles leave the loading platform and enter the darkness of the Mighty Microscope, they are greeted by the voice of the narrator heard from individual speakers in each vehicle.
"Welcome to an adventure through inner space…through Monsanto's Mighty Microscope you will journey into the incredible universe found within a tiny fragment of a snowflake."
The Atomobiles appear to pass through a swirling snow storm and as they proceed through the illusion the snowflakes become larger, revealing their delicate structure.
"I am the first person to make this fabulous journey. Suspended in the timelessness of inner space are the thought waves of my first impressions. They will be our only source of contact once you pass beyond the limits to normal MAG-NI-FI-CATION…."
The last word of the narrative becomes amplified, echoey and distorted and fades out. The snowflakes become gigantic geometric shapes. The voice of the narrator is now hollow and etherealized as though it might be his thoughts suspended in time.
"Am I truly passing beyond the magnification limits of even the most powerful microscopes? Can I be shrinking beyond the smallness of a tiny snowflake?…Surely it must be my imagination."
The crystals become gigantic prisms of solid ice.
"And yet…How is it that this tiny bit of crystal towers above me like an enormous wall of solid ice? Indeed I am becoming smaller…and…smaller…."
The towering walls of solid ice take on porous character and the Atomobiles proceed into an enormous, shimmering, almost forbidding labyrinth.
"From this tiny viewpoint I see that nothing is solid. All matter must be penetrable…what compelling force draws me into this mysterious darkness?"
The shimmering crystals blend into an area of total darkness.
"I have lost all sense of direction…as though I were drifting…can this be the threshold of INNER SPACE?"
Act II: The Universe of the Molecule
The Atomobiles enter a strange world filled with vibrating, rotating fleecy spheres. As the Atomobiles proceed into the cluster, it can be seen that each unit is made up of two smaller spheres uniformly attached to a single larger one.
"What are these strange spheres? Have I reached the universe of the molecule…Yes, these must be water molecules…H2O. They vibrate in such an orderly pattern because this is water frozen into the solid state of matter."
The shrinking guests are suddenly aware of orbiting lights that form gigantic molecules.
"I see now that it is the orbiting electrons that give the atom its fuzzy appearance…and still I continue to shrink until I am able to pierce the wall of this oxygen atom."
The music builds to a great crescendo as the Atomobiles proceed through a shower of orbiting smears of colors.
"Electrons are dashing about me like so many fiery comets…can I possibly survive?"
Act III: The Vastness of Inner Space
The violent meteor shower marks the breakthrough into the universe inside the oxygen atom. The stillness inside the atom and the illusion of vastness are a marked contrast to the violent breakthrough.
"I am so infinitely small now that the orbiting electrons of this tiny speck of a snowflake crystal appear like the Milky Way of our own familiar world."
A rotation of the Atomobiles reveals the mysterious throbbing nucleus.
"And there is the nucleus…(thumping sound)…Do I dare enter the unknown vastness of its inner space?…No, it is better that I return to the realm of the molecule before I am tempted to go on shrinking…forever."
The Atomobiles proceed through an abbreviated version of the breakthrough effects and emerge again into the world of the molecule.
Act IV: The Return to Normal
The journey into the Atom completed, the remaining few seconds are devoted to a quick return to normal. The vibrating H2O molecules of Act 2 are now fluid tumbling water molecules that blend into bubbles.
"Hmmm…How strange…The molecules are so active now. That can only mean that the snowflake is beginning to melt…"
The reverberated voices of the Tracking crew interrupt the narrative with a note of urgency.
"Snowflake melting! Stand by for re-entry! M-Scope counting…minus 10 million…9 million…8…."
The shadowy form of a huge optical instrument can be seen through the water molecule and bubble effects. As the Atomobiles pass beneath it, the guests see a huge three-dimensional, animated eye looking down at them and moving back and forth as if it is watching the journey.
"Atomobiles back on visual…. Continue re-entry procedure. Oscilloscope scanning. Thermotaxis affirmative. All phases normal."
The Monsanto musical theme builds to a finale as the Atomobiles proceed to the show exit and enter the Product Display area and approach the unloading platform.
"Welcome back to our familiar world of comfort and convenience…made possible through miracles from molecules. In our display area, you will see modern miracles created by rearranging the molecules of not only water but of the air…coal…petroleum and many other raw materials. This is Monsanto today."
Ladies and gentlemen…. Welcome to Miracles From Molecules. Please watch your step as you exit from the Atomobile.
While the training book was 14 pages long, seven pages were devoted entirely to the history and operation of Monsanto.
Why? Well according to the final page:
"As you go on stage, remember that you are a personal representative of 60,000 Monsanto employees around the world. To our many Disneyland guests, you are Monsanto…they will expect you to answer questions of many types regarding Monsanto Company and their products.
"Yes…your challenge is a dual role…a member of the Disneyland cast, and an equally important member of the Monsanto family. Good luck in your new role as you bring our guests into another dimension…a fascinating 'Adventure Thru Inner Space'."
Some of that material that Disneyland cast members were expected to know about Monsanto included the following:
Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John F. Queeny, a successful drug executive who was convinced that saccharin, a super-sweetener then made only in Germany could be manufactured profitably in the United States. With his savings and capital invested by others, he launched Monsanto in St. Louis, Missouri, naming the company for his wife Olga Monsanto Queeny.
During Monsanto's first 20 years, organic chemicals such as caffeine, vanillin, phenolphthalein and aspirin were added to a growing list of products. From 1920 to 1940, the company expanded its product line into new fields of chemistry and adding manufacturing facilities at several locations in the United States and abroad.
The formation of the Chemstrand Corporation in 1949 marked Monsanto's entry into the field of man-made fibers. The Lion Oil Company Division was formed in 1955, giving Monsanto a necessary foothold in the field of petroleum, the raw material for many Monsanto products.
In 1957, Monsanto expanded its plastics field which resulted in 1963 with it producing a broad line of plastic containers and oriented polystyrene sheeting.
When Adventure Thru Inner Space opened, the Monsanto Company was the third largest chemical company in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. In term of sales and assets, it was the nation's 33rd largest industrial company.
The company had 43 plants and 10 laboratories in the United States, and manufacturing interests in 21 countries. It employed more than 60,000 people world-wide. Monsanto's product line which began with just one product, saccharin, included more than a thousand chemical, fiber, plastic and petroleum products.
Monsanto was one of the original participants in Disneyland when it opened in 1955 sponsoring the Hall of Chemistry at the front of Tomorrowland from July 17, 1955 to September 19, 1966.
It was a free walk-through exhibit of informational displays demonstrating the benefits of chemical engineering with the Chematron (eight huge, oversized test tubes containing the basic materials from nature like coal and water used in the making of over 500 Monsanto products) and electrified wall items among other things. Guests could get a free brochure with more information.
From June 1957 to December 1967, Monsanto hosted the House of the Future at the entrance to that land
In 1953, Monsanto's Plastic Research Laboratory partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop a method of using its plastics in house construction. It decided that only a full-scale display house would best demonstrate these new applications both to builders and the public. As a result, it became a free attraction at Disneyland for guests to walk through and discover the wonders of future living.
The house was located to the left side of the entrance to Tomorrowland and was a white cruciform with four gracefully curved fiberglass wings cantilevered from a 256-square-foot central core. It was like a cross or a "plus" sign and not only provided full daylight for each individual room, but sound reduction, privacy, and the ease in adding extra modules.
Each wing was 8-feet tall, 16-feet wide, and 16-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 house opened June 12, 1957 after a media preview a day earlier.
The floors, walls and ceilings were made of plastic. The Kelvinator Division of American Motors Corporation designed the "Atoms for Living Kitchen" that had appliances that either dropped down from overhead, like the "cold zone" units that took the place of a refrigerator, or popped up from the counter, like the new microwave oven.
Sylvania Electric Products Company provided adjustable panel lighting behind polarized plastic ceiling tiles that could mimic "the glow of natural sunlight"." Bell Telephone contributed the push-button speakerphone (that would make its general public appearance years later at the 1964 New York World's Fair) with "pre-set" dialing to call selected numbers, like a doctor or the school. In the bathroom there was a phone with a video screen so you could see who was at the front door, but they couldn't see you.
The bathroom featured a movable sink that, at the push of a button, could adjust higher or lower for the person using it. Devices included an electric razor and an electric toothbrush with an attached cord. The living room had a large, wall-mounted (non-working) television screen and, of course, a built-in stereo sound system.
While today, many of these innovations seem quaint and unexceptional, it must be remembered that at the time they were considered revolutionary.
More than 20 million people (more than the entire population of the state of California at the time) visited by the time the house was finally removed in 1967.
The house proved more durable than expected when the original plan for a one-day demolition in late 1967 turned into a long two-week project. The building had to be hack-sawed piece by piece and parts crushed with wrapped chains into removable pieces when the wrecking ball kept bouncing off the sides of the house.
The area was transformed into a beautiful Alpine Garden and later, in 1996, Triton's Garden as the home for Ariel, and in 2008, became Tinker Bell's home of Pixie Hollow.
Monsanto and Disneyland had a decades long association that resulted in several interesting free experiences for guests but today the world has changed and only memories remain.