The Fascinating History Of The Disneyland Monorail, or.. “The Day Walt Kidnapped The Vice President Of The United States”

Disneyland Monorail at Opening Ceremony with Vice-President Richard Nixon, 1959

The History Of Monorails

Monorail trains have been around as early as 1825, when the one-horse power engine Cheshunt Railway was the first monorail train to carry passengers. The Cheshunt Railway was actually built to carry bricks, but made monorail history by carrying passengers at its opening on  June 25th, 1825.

In 1876 a steam-powered monorail train debuted at Philadelphia’s Centenial Exposition. The ornately designed double-decker vehicle had two main wheels, the rear one driven by a rotary steam engine.

The Disneyland Monorail debuted in 1959 as a single stop train in Tomorrowland. At first the Monorail did not actually take guests to another station, it simply departed and returned to the same station in Tomorrowland, and it’s tracks did not leave the land.

The Nixon Debacle

Then Vice-President Richard Nixon and his family (pictured above) were the first passengers to ride on the new Disneyland attraction, participating in the futuristic train’s opening day ribbon cutting ceremony along with Walt Disney and his family in 1959. Walt anxiously showed the Vice President around the train’s cabins and cockpit, and then got so overwhelmed with excitement that he gave the pilot the go ahead to leave the station. The secret service were not on board yet. They were not happy!

What followed was a comedy of errors as secret service agents attempted to leap onto the moving train as it left the station and gab on to the roof, the sides, and any other train surface that would support them. They held on for dear life, attempting to protect the Vice President of the United States as much as they could given the circonstances. It was at this point that Walt Disney, seeing the Secret Service clinging to the outside of this favorite new project, realized he had, in actuality, accidentally kidnapped the Vice President of the United States. He laughed about the incident later, but he was extremely nervous at the time.

The Modern Train

Years later in 1961 the Monorail was expanded with a second station created in the Disneyland Hotel. The train now offered two destinations, Tomorrowland and the hotel. The tracks left Tomorrowland, traveled along harbor blvd, over the Disneyland parking lot, and crossed a public street called West Ave.

In 2001 the Disneyland Hotel station was replaced by a new station built in Downtown Disney, in conjunction with the construction of California Adventure.

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John Glass is a travel blogger, editor at SoCalSecrets.com, and author of the books “Things To Do at Disneyland” and “Things To Do at Disney California Adventure”.