BACKSTORY (June 23, 1956—Nov. 9, 1994): 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 (making it the slowest 101), 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 & spit at guests below as they went overhead. For the final ride, Mickey & Minnie made the last crossing as guests watched below. The Fantasyland Skyway station remains, but the Tomorrowland station has been mostly removed and was at one point a service area for the 1998 attraction Rocket Rods. When the Skyway closed, the holes in the Matterhorn were filled in and the supports were dismantled within weeks.
Another reason 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. The Disney World version closed exactly 5 years later.
Interested in more Skyway info? Join the Disneyland Skyway Yahoo group—click here.
Reader Susan from Fresno was extremely generous to send me these images from a trip she took to Disneyland in July of 1958. I’ll let her finish the story:
“This was our first visit to Disneyland. My Dad was in the military and we had just returned back to the states after being stationed in Japan and Okinawa. We were visiting relatives in Riverside, CA and just had to make a visit to Disneyland! I do know we visited just for one day and also visited Knott's Berry Farm to eat the chicken and biscuits dinner. We’ve visited Disneyland several times through the years, so memories mesh together. My first basic memory of our first visit to Disneyland: it was not crowded. We three kids could run and play on Tom Sawyer’s Island and play on the rocking rock. We took the raft ride over as a family. We also played around Fort Wilderness. My brothers loved Davy Crockett and I believe they bought faux coonskin hats. The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Walk-Through Exhibit I remember was scary to me because of the giant octopus. The Jungle Cruise and the animals in and out of the water seemed so real. We had never seen anything like it. My older brother bought a shrunken head and kept chasing me and scaring me to death with it! Rocket to the Moon ride...the seats vibrated during lift off. My older brother loved Autopia. The train ride around the park from Main Street Station was relaxing and fun for our whole family every time we visited. It was always one of the last rides we went on when our feet were dog tired and our minds numb from all the excitement of the day. We could take in all the sites, sounds and smells of Disneyland and experience the Grand Canyon, too.
“We then visited Disneyland next in 1961 when we drove out from Virginia to once again visit with relatives in Riverside. I remember Tinker Bell on one of our later visits coming down on a wire from the top of the Matterhorn. No matter how old I get, I still love the magic of Disney...Tinker Bell is still my favorite. We finally were able to visit Disney World's Magic Kingdom a year ago and loved it. We loved the whole Disney World experience, Epcot, etc....BUT our hearts will always stay true to the original Anaheim Disneyland.”
To see photos from Susan’s original 1958 Souvenir Guide Book, visit my Brochures, Maps, and Tickets page.
In 1978 I was a freshman in High school at a very small school in Washington State. I had a huge crush on a boy that was a senior. We were both in band and I tried very hard to make him notice me. We had one friend in common, so I was able to be included in some group things, but he never seemed too interested in me, much to my disappointment.
In April of that year, our band was accepted to perform at Disneyland, in a parade. We were so excited. We rented three buses to get us down there. I was so sad when he signed up to ride a different bus than I was on, and his seatmate was a senior girl. When we got to Disneyland we did our performance. When we were finished, our band director told us to divide into groups of 4 and stay together until it was time to meet back at the bus. Because of our mutual friend, he and I ended up in the same group. I was so excited!
We were standing in the middle of the street trying to decide which ride to go on first. We finally decided to go on the Skyway. As we were getting line, he said “I get to sit by Carla!” I wanted to jump up and down and scream, I was soooooo happy! After that, we were inseparable. The girl that he rode down on the bus with was very mad at me. We asked our director if he could change buses and he wouldn’t let him, so he had to ride home with her. We dated until I got out of school in 1981 and then we got married. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2007, at Disneyland.
I like to say “And they lived happily ever after.”