Spaceship Earth: Inventing the Personal Computer

We leave the computer server room and travel outside where it is nighttime and a Chevy Nova is parked outside of a house in Menlo Park California with manicured hedges.   Inside the garage is a man building a personal computer.



Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer in Cupertino CA in April ’76.  The first Apple computer deisnged by Wozniak was introduced at a meeting of hobbyist computer club in CA (1).  This computer club was the Homebrew Computer Club, founded in a Menlo Park garage by other electronics hobbyists.

Homebrew soon outgrew the garage and met in a Stanford auditorium, where engineers, hobbyists, entrepreneurs, activists, and social scientists gathered to share information, buy and trade electronics parts, and even form companies.  Homebrew was not unique. Spurred by the Altair, dozens of computer hobbyist clubs sprouted all over the country. (2).


There are some AWESOME details in this scene that have been reviewed with exquisite rigor by the folks at Parkeology –

February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

What if everyone could have one of these amazing machines in their own house? There’s just one problem: They’re as big as a house. The solution comes in of all places, a garage in California. Young people with a passion for shaping the future put the power of the computer in everyone’s hands. Together we form a super network that goes with billions of interactions, and once again we stand on the brink of a new Renaissance.

  1. Campbell-Kelly,M., Garci-Swarz,D. (2015).  From Mainframes to Smartphones A History of International Computer Industry Cambridge & London, Harvard University Press


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Spaceship Earth: Computers – Mainframe

With technology moving so fast its no wonder that instead of looking ahead, it was easier for Disney to go back.   It does make sense given that this refurb was in 2007 and the scene prior to computers is from 1969 with the Moon landing – a lot has happened between!

As the narration says To send a man to the moon, we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers. We go from the Moon Landing scene on TV to a 1970’s mainframe computer room.   The room is so large that it takes up both sides of the track.  Finally for the first time since 1994 we see the right side of the track being used!


From the IBM Think logo we can hazard a guess that this room houses an IBM System 360  or 370 mainframe.


The reason mainframes were “as big as a house” was because of all the separate components required to run the main console.  The consoles and various storage configurations included line printers, card readers and punches, plotters, tape and disk drives, optical scanners, remote entry devices, and disc drive storage.  The first computers were serviced by a staff (about 12 people) of operators and programmers (1).


Magnetic Tape Drive

Looking to the left of your vehicle, the machines highlighted in the back of this gentleman are the magnetic tape drives.


Each drive is a 9 track tape which is half-inch tape spooled on a large, open, reel. This tape is recorded with 9 tracks across the width of the tape; 8 of the tracks form one byte of data, and the 9th track records a parity bit (an error checking bit). Each tape could hold between 42 and 160 MB (2) which seems silly by today’s standards but magnetic tape was capable of storing a lot more data than punch cards.

Speaking of punch cards, a nice detail for the lab tech pulling tape drives has a punch card clipped to his binder.  He also appears to have put on a toupe since he first started the job.


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 Groovy Women Computin’!

To the right of our vehicle we see the popular “go-go dancer” computer tech.  As happy as I was to see a woman in this scene, I thought her outfit was a bit silly but after researching this era of computers – its actually not far from reality!  Since I’ve seen a few comments related to women and women of color in 1970’s computing – let me share what I learned.

Therefore, it is ENTIRELY appropriate for there to be a woman of color in this scene dressed how she is dressed without even remotely stretching history.


Lest there be any doubt as to the popularity of this female computer engineer, she has been honored as one of the Vinylmation Park Starz!

comp eng

Mainframes Today

Mainframes are still in use today.  While a PC is designed to provide very fast processing to a single user, the mainframe’s role is to be able to control many tasks being run by many users simultaneously.  Transaction processing jobs run constantly in real-time and must be available more than 99.99 percent of the time.  Thousands of individual users can log in simultaneously from a variety of sources such as computer terminals, ATM machines, or web sites, and complete a single transaction (3).


I’m going to wager a guess that this gentleman working the tape drives was a Jewish scholar in his past life.

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The computer engineer used to be in the radio broadcasting industry back in the late 1920’s.

February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

By now, To send a man to the moon, we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers. At first very large, very expensive computers, but we see the potential.

What if everyone could have one of these amazing machines in their own house? There’s just one problem: They’re as big as a house

  1. Campbell-Kelly,M., Garci-Swarz,D. (2015).  From Mainframes to Smartphones A History of International Computer Industry Cambridge & London, Harvard University Press


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Spaceship Earth – Computers (’94-’07)

The previous computer scenes (boy in his room, woman in his office, and the NOC) were removed and replaced with one giant scene featuring an international video chat.  This is all to the left and whatever old scene was on the right is still covered up.

The previous computer scenes were current to the ’84-’94 time period. In this scene we see a video chat on thin monitors – a bit ahead of its time in ’94 when it was installed but is common place today.  In 1994 it was still dial up internet and there were no flat screen tvs or monitors.  1994 was when the first internet order was made (either a CD or a Pizza Hut Pizza).


The 60’s and the 70’s had video telephones but they weren’t practical for mainstream use due to the cost of the device and data charges.  The Bell Picturephone pictured below was debuted at the 1964  Worlds Fair.



The first reported webcam was from 1991 (only 3 years before the installation of this version of the ride).   It was used to view the amount of coffee that remained in a coffee pot.  It didn’t actually hit the web till 1993!

mlxgrqibrfnice2h1b8lIn 1994, a small company called Connectix shipped the QuickCam, now considered the first commercial webcam.  Some cellphone models offered video calls in the early 2000s.  Online video chat was booming by the mid 2000s, thanks to cheap color cameras, free software, ubiquitous PCs, and widespread broadband. By 2003, all the major instant messaging clients supported video calling (1).

International Video Chat

Meet Teri-San (no idea) and Kaiko who are having an online video chat complete with real time translation.  Just like the previous version of the ride, we come upon a boy in his bedroom, only this dude’s room is wicked messy.  The dude is in the US (per the Typhoon Lagoon Surf Board) and Kaiko is in Japan (per the architecture and Cherry Blossom Tree) and they are able to communicate as if they are in the next room – hence the tiny symbolic ocean between them that starts at the edges of their rooms.

The young man is clearly using an AT&T service here.   During the launch of this ride version, AT&T also launched a series of ads about the future!




You may recognize this young man from the 60’s when he was lounging watching the Moon Landing on TV.  At least we know he ends up in a good place and gets a haircut.



We see an arc of twinkling light (almost like Tinkerbell) that travels over the ocean to symbolize the data traveling overseas to connect the young man and Kaiko. They are not only having a conversation, but are also sharing video files and viewing them while they talk.  Can you imagine sharing these kinds of file sizes in real time over a 56k modem?!  Hilarious.


In this close up photo below we can see the file sharing and also the translation.  She shares video of her playing baseball and he shares video of him in a martial arts demonstration.


There is some speculation as to the origins and eventual placement of the animatronic known as Kaiko.  Regardless, her role as Kaiko lives on in our memories.

As we leave our international video chat, we pass through a neon globe depicting how small the world will be/is now with our ability to instantly connect.

neon globe

Today we use Skype and FaceTime without a second thought.  Video chat has evolved to not only translate spoken languages but also sign language!  Doctors are even using video chat for medical diagnoses!  High speed internet does seem like it is everywhere, but there are still millions of people in rural America don’t have the Internet connectivity that those in cities take for granted.  A reminder that the future hasn’t arrived for everyone in the US let alone the rest of the world.  But we do possess the technology to make these connections happen!


November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007 (narrated by Jeremy Irons)

Today, we possess the ability to connect with one another instantly anywhere on the planet.

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Spaceship Earth – Computers (’82-’94)

With instant communication from Radio, Telephone, and Television – technology constantly grows to automate this vast network.  With instant communication available each day we not only get information faster, we are inundated with information.  How are we supposed to deal with all of this information? We invent computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, that help us chart our course through an age of boundless information (Larry Dobkin script).

We move from analog to digital in order to maintain our vast network as depicted in a generic Network Operations Center (NOC).

Bell Network Operations Center (’82-’86)

In the first incarnation of the ride, there was nothing on the left that I can find evidence of before arriving at the Network Operations Center (the NOC). I remember there being SOMETHING on the right side.  You can see glimpses of it in MartinsVids with a woman reviewing three large monitors.

The NOC scene shown below was to the left and showed three large lit up maps (Regional/FL, National/USA, and International) to monitor network operations.  Two network managers (male and female) are working the console likely studying traffic trends and service levels.  The very first version of the NOC has no branding and the man at the desk is wearing a vest that reminds me of Han Solo.


A later update added in the ride’s sponsor’s logo, Bell Systems to the NOC and removed the dude’s vest.


The Tiny Transistor

By the Cronkite era, the left side was updated to include a few animatronics and the introduction of the personal computer before the NOC Scene.  The technology for the personal computer was created along side the electrical engineering technologies that brought us the communication inventions we’ve seen so far in this ride.

Cronkite mentions that computers were made possible by the tiny transistor.   The transistor was invented in 1947 and its purpose is to amplify and control electronic current direction and serve as a switch.  It was certainly tiny compared to the vacuum tube that predated it.  It allowed for more compact computing and received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956(1).


Transistor vs. Vacuum Tube

Nothing really captures the excitement of the transistor better than this video from 1953!

In 1959 Kilby (Texas Instruments) and Noyce (Fairchild Semiconductor) saw that there needed to be a better way of building and connecting transistors in large quantities. They invented the integrated circuit – a conductive circuit board on a chip that contained many of the tiny transistors (1).  This work led to a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000.

In 1971 Marcian Hoff of Intel Corp invented the microprocessor that put the entire central processing unit on a single silicon chip.   In other words, all functions of the computer are placed on a single integrated circuit (1).  This microprocessor had a transistor count of  2300 transistors (2).  As of 2016, the largest transistor count in a commercially available single-chip processor is over 7.2 billion (3)!


Now that computing power can be put on a chip the production of personal computers was made possible.  The first personal computer to achieve great commercial success was the Apple II in 1977.  In 1981 IBM came out with their model which included a hard disk drive (3).

The Personal Computer

The first of the new scenes shows a young man at a desk in his bedroom working on a computer.  From watching the Martins Vids videos of this scene its not clear exactly what he’s working on, but perhaps he’s playing a game since there are three board games (Chess & Checkers, Parcheesi, and Space Hop) to his right on the filing cabinet.  Computers weren’t a staple in homes till later in the 80’s and were usually in a shared space for the family so its hard to say when in time this scene represents.


Since in 1986 AT&T was the sponsor, this guy is likely working on an AT&T PC 6300 which came out in 1984.

According to the fine folks at Retro Disney World Podcast the young man at the computer was the original composer from the printing press scene that departs and is never replaced.  Perhaps he’s still doing data entry like he was in the 1450’s!


The Paperless Office

Further ahead on the left a woman sits at her office desk, talking on a phone and using a computer.  Its referred to as a Paperless Office in some texts even though there is a dot matrix printer on her desk.  Given that it was 1986 when this was installed, that was certainly the dream for the office of the future but this appears to depict the then current times of the 80’s.


PM0003Computers seemed as though they would replicate the aspects of paper use, however – in short, new technology didn’t get rid of paper, it actually increased and/or shifted the way it was used (5). While email was becoming more available, electronic document transmission (attachments) were particularly slow to take hold.

As the new ease of printing sent office paper use to record levels, a joke arose that the paperless office would arrive at around the same time as the paperless toilet (4).

AT&T World Wide Intelligent Network (’86-’94)

The woman in the “modern day office” in the last scene had moved over from her previous position at the Network Operations Center. That left the gentleman all to himself which must have been a challenge because there was also an organizational change from Bell to AT&T which renamed the NOC to the AT&T World Wide Intelligent Network.


Of course today, it takes more than one person to manage the network, its actually 130 people who monitor tracking the daily movement of nearly 30 petabytes of data — including 1.4 billion voice calls and 5 billion text messages — as it travels through nearly 1 million miles of fiber-optic cable, tens of thousands of cell sites, and countless switches and routers (6).


May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994 (narrated by Walter Cronkite)

Instant communications create an ever-increasing flow of facts and figures. To manage this growing storehouse of information, we invent the computer. A revolutionary tool made practical by the tiny transistor.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986 (narrated by Larry Dobkin)

With each day come more paths, more ideas, more dreams, and we build new machines: computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, that help us chart our course through an age of boundless information. With these machines comes a wondrous new network of communications, a vibrant maze of billions of electronic pathways stretching to the very edge of space.

July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script

Too much!  Too many facts!! How can we sort them out?   How to sort out FACTS?  With COMPUTER Walls!! Walls that Accumulate – Organize – Store – Interpret – Retrieve and Transmit Information with incredible Volume and Speed.

  1. Matossian, M. (1997).  Shaping World History.  New York, London, M.E. Sharpe
  4. Haigh,T. (2006). Remembering the Office of the Future: The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
  5.  Ellen, A.J., Harper, R.H. R.(2002).  The Myth of the Paperless Office  Cambridge, Massachusetts and London England, The MIT Press
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Spaceship Earth – Space Age: Television

Television Technology

Radio was huge.   The next logical step was to add visual information to the audio via radio waves. Television is really a three-part invention: 1. the TV camera that turns a picture and sound into a signal; 2. the TV transmitter that sends the signal through the air; and 3. the TV receiver (the TV set in your home) that captures the signal and turns it back into picture and sound (1). Microwave relay networks were later established for the additional bandwidth.



In the 1930s TVs were being massed produced but with the great depression, were a luxury. Plus radio at this point was more reliable to late breaking news about the war than TV.  In the 1950’s TV really caught on.   TV ownership soared from 10% in 1950 to 87% in 1960. By 1967 most TV broadcasts were in color (2).

Family Entertainment

The original scene of this ride depicted a mother, father and daughter watching TV in their living room. Depending on the year, three or four other televisions hung on the wall behind the TV.  Mom has the clicker and is changing channels through these television shows (3):


This living room is illuminated by the TV screens. The backdrop of the room shows neighbors’ windows in the evening, perhaps also lit by more TVs.   Something about the lighting and nebulous TVs floating gave it an eerie feeling…


A strange as the scene was, the concept write up for SSE by Ray Bradbury was trying to illustrate that people are being bombarded by information.


Bradbury, R. (1977). Man and his Spaceship Earth. Theme show for EPCOT Center/Future World. WED Enterprises.

Family TV Room

Sure, TV had huge impacts but what it impacts is people  – this new version of the scene shows the warmth of the family missing from the last scene.  Not only is the family brought together by television, they are brought together in a special room designated and arranged specifically for this purpose (4).  And this room now has a back wall!


There are many details that make this an awesome mid century modern living room.  The Chrome Swivel Chair, Tension Pole Lamp,  Accent Shelves, Statement Art Wall-piece, Terrarium, Shag Carpeting, and even a collection of National Geographic Magazines – only a bit smaller than Walt would have.


Other details show that the room wasn’t just for TV.  A game of Mouse Trap is set up on the floor. There is also a vinyl record record resting on the floor to the left of the television set.  This used to be a Pinocchio LP but has since changed to a Beatles Album. According to one cast member, “The toys, books, and games on the shelf are real, and they’re even from the same year, 1969. The only thing that isn’t from 1969 is the Beatles album, which is from 1982.”.

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Mom put down the clicker she had from the previous scene and Dad is still chillin.  A brother has been added to the scene (another visitor from the future we will meet later).

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The TV in this living room is a fantastic retro-future 1958 Philco Predicta from Brazil.


Moon Walk

The date is July 20, 1969 and the family is watching the CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first moon walk, on live television.  People all over the world were glued to their television sets as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.  This includes those in Disneyland!


On the afternoon of July 20, 1969, just steps away from an attraction called “Flight to the Moon,” thousands of Disneyland park guests gathered at the Tomorrowland Stage to watch a seminal event in human history unfold on live television.

The moon walk is an appropriate choice given Disney’s interest in space exploration.  Disney’s Man and the Moon,  first aired on December 28, 1955, fourteen years before man first walks on the Moon!  This episode was the second in a three part series narrated by Paul Frees.

Not only is this family joining 500 million others around the world in witnessing this event, its also the first world wide broadcast, and the televisual inauguration of a global satellite network (5).  The first commercial satellite for communications launched in 1965 called the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT).  They were an international consortium till they went private in 2001. Today, Intelsat operates a fleet of over 50 communications satellites (6).

We are truly communicating all over the world in an instant.

Astronomy Tidbit

Props to the imagineers for a subtle detail on this scene.   There is a window to the right of the TV to the balcony that shows a skyline with the Moon.  The Moon’s phase is now accurate for the date 7/20/69: waxing crescent, 25% illuminated (7).


February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

By now, we’re all communicating from anywhere on Earth and in 1969 from somewhere else.

November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007 (narrated by Jeremy Irons)


May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994 (narrated by Walter Cronkite)

Then television brings the world into our homes profoundly changing our perceptions of life itself.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986 (narrated by Larry Dobkin)


July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script

With Rocket Fire and Satellite we sent WALLS forth in all directions; North – South – East – West.  With instant sound and sight we touched each nation of the world – each city – each home – each man, woman and child.   We brought to every CAVE the knowledge of who we are – of what we are – of what in the world is going – NOW!

  5. Schwoch, J. (2009).  Global TV New Media and the Cold War, 1946-69  Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press
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Spaceship Earth – Industrial Revolution: Radio

A crucial achievement in communication technology – wireless communication!   Radio brings us long distance transmission without the wires (you know, like your magic band!).


The technology was around in the early 1900’s and was a useful tool for Naval communications where putting up wires between ships wasn’t feasible.  In 1920 the first commercial radio station in the US started and by 1925, 1 in 6 homes had a radio.  The radio became so popular that interference of the signals became an issue – the Radio Act of 1927 resolved this by assigning specific frequencies to broadcast stations (1).

Radio Electronics

The studio equipment on display looks to be authentic replications or actual old pieces.   There is SO MUCH electronic equipment associated with radio – resistors, condensers, inductors, frequency measures, oscillators, amplifiers, signal generators, meters etc (3). This is a good wide shot of the recent version that shows the ming green color of the studio.


Looks like a transmitter station to the right of the broadcast engineer.  Above is a cathedral radio receiver next to the “on the air” sign.  The engineer is sitting at a mixer and the announcer is using a “type A microphone”  and the engineer is using a “type B microphone“. To the left of the engineer is a teletype machine for incoming news delivered to the station.  There are also a pair of turntables for either playing music or transcribing the show.

Radio for Entertainment

The image below is from the pre-2008 refurb.   In this scene, a man and a woman are acting out a radio show inside of a sound booth.  The sound engineer has a gong on his desk indicating this was more a playful/entertainment scene.  The microphone flag used was “WDP” (Walt Disney Productions).


Radio for News

With the development of radio, extras became obsolete in the early 1930s, replaced with breaking news bulletins that would interrupt regular programming.

Things change in the latest version of this scene.   The radio actress is no longer in the scene due to a future promotion a few scenes ahead.  While I hate to lose a woman from a scene, the subject matter makes up for it.  Instead of providing entertainment, our scene now focused on delivering news.  The gong is replaced with the teletype and the radio announcer has the following news bulletin:

And today, we received word that Amelia Earhart* has landed safe and sound in Wales. Today, July 19th, 1928, will forever be known as the day that she flew across the Atlantic and into the hearts of people around the world. Amelia Earhart has gone where no other woman has gone before! (4)

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*Fun fact!   Amelia Earhart was friends with Buckminster Fuller who popularized the term “Spaceship Earth”.

Broadcast Networks

Another change in the latest version – the announcers microphone flag has been changed from “WDP” (Walt Disney Productions) to “WDI” (Walt Disney Imagineering).  Stations eventually became part of larger networks like NBC or CBS and stations installed more antennas as the networks grew.


To send audio messages over electromagnetic waves we use transmitters  and receivers. Transmitters are antennas that turns electrical signals into radio waves so they can travel and receivers have antennas that catches radio waves and turns them into electrical signals that feed into the radio (2).

To the right of that is a radio studio is a tower with a red light blinking on top and an animation illustrates the radio waves emanating from the tip. On the wall behind it is a painting of another radio tower in the distance indicating radio’s expansion.


Because animatronics are complex, time intensive to create, and expensive – its common to duplicate the models that are made and dress them differently.   In this scene – the Sound Engineer is said to also be the Mathew Brady in American Adventure OR our telegraph operator from a few years ago (5).  Since we can’t see his face we will just have to rely on his stature from the previous scene!

brady operator head

July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script

We invented the Telegraph, the Telephone – the Wireless – The Radio!   We criss-crossed the world with wire, first.  Then filled the air with sound.  In remote and distant lands we linked each “Campfire” with rapid talks and chats – with information – with entertainment.

  1. Hillstrom, K. & L.C. (2007).  The Industrial Revolution in America: Communications  Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO
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Spaceship Earth – Industrial Revolution: Cinema

Look quickly to your right for the Cinema Scene because times they are a changin’ at a rapid pace!   This one has been a challenge to fit into the timeline before the 2008 refurb.  Let’s start with the original version.  It starts with a grand cinema marquee and a woman in a ticket booth.


Original theater marquees had hundreds, if not thousands, of cluster bulbs (1)
advertising the theater.  This is before neon had become mainstream.  There is a classic ornate movie screen complete with the red curtain.   Curtains haven’t covered movie screens since theater owners realized the blank screen could be used as billboards – these screens are now a stream of constant ads (2).

under the sign

The theater screen is showing an iconic chase scene from a black and white silent film – Girl Shy from 1924 starring Harold Lloyd.  There were two other screens displaying films.

The second screen first showed the Cheek to Cheek scene from Top Hat, the 1935 film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  It was later changed to the first full length animated feature film, Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from 1937.

The third screen features Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from 1954 starring Kirk Douglas.  I can’t remember if other scenes were ever on display and watching old ride throughs it can also blend in with the images from the TV scene ahead.

The cinema is great and 1924 – 1954 are certainly important years – but what does this have to do with communication?  Enter the Newsreel and the most recent refurbishment!


Americans received breaking news from the newspaper and extra editions with with minimal visual parts to the story.  Enter the Newsreel, a brief update on what’s going on in the world with moving pictures. Newsreels were commonly shown prior to the main feature and was the only way most people first saw actual film footage of events like the Hindenburg explosion or the Olympic games (2).


This particular newsreel is brought to us by “Movie News” but in reality after 1926 there were 5 big newsreel companies: Fox Movietone, Paramount, Universal, Warner-Pathe (owned by RKO after 1931), and Hearst Metrotone (released by MGM, renamed News of the Day in 1936) (3).  This newsreel tells us of Jesse Owens winning the Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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The woman in the ticket booth is now featured reading the newspaper, the New York Daily, the same news outlet from the steam-press days 70 years ago.  This version eliminates the secondary screens in favor of the audience silhouettes watching the newsreel (4).

After the newsreel, moviegoers expected a cartoon before the feature film.   This typical arrangement is advertised explicitly on the sandwich board.


This day in 1936 is showing Disney’s first full color Mickey mouse cartoon short The Band Concert.


February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)


November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007 (narrated by Jeremy Irons)


May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994 (narrated by Walter Cronkite)

Radio and movies inform and entertain millions.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986 (narrated by Larry Dobkin)


July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script


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Spaceship Earth – Industrial Revolution: Telephone

On the left we see the next big thing in communications – the electromagnetic transmission of human voices AKA – the telephone!  Making a telephone call is about converting energy from sound to electricity, carrying the electricity down a very long wire, and then turning the electricity back into sound (3).

We see a bunch of telephone wires connecting to homes.  Based on how well lit the homes appear to be from the windows, we might also guess this is an urban area with electricity in their homes too.  This amount of wires is NOT an exaggeration!


Check out this photo below of Pratt, Kansas in 1911.  The wires are no joke!  Reminds you of the Second Act in Carousel of Progress!  By 1920, 13 million phones were in use – that’s 123 phones for every 1,000 people (1).

pratt kansas

Continuing on, there is a switchboard operated by three women.  Yes, finally some professional women on display!  The switchboard was first developed in 1878 and it was soon realized that the job of operator was best suited towards females. A woman’s voice was more patient and reassuring to the users of this new technology.  As better communicators, female operators quickly became the norm, one of the few occupations a respectable young woman could enter, along with teachers, nurses, store clerks (1) and computers.


These women are working on a magneto switchboard that was fabricated from an actual model circa 1898, supplied by American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) (2). The operators connect any person’s phone to anyone else’s by switching around the connections on the board—which is why it was called a switchboard (3).

Magneto (hand-cranked generator) telephones allowed subscribers to ring anyone on their circuit line.  If they wished to speak with someone on a different line, that call was connected through a magento switchboard at a central office (4). The magneto in the telephone set generates currents to notify the operator at the switchboard of the user’s call request (5).


We can hear the ladies at work:

I’m sorry, that line is busy.

One moment please.

One moment, I’ll transfer you.

We can now communicate within minutes and not months and also hear the voices of our loved ones from afar.    Having a telephone was a social life line for rural farmers who could talk with far away family and also take orders from stores and learn quickly about what crops were needed.

  1. Hillstrom, K. & L.C. (2007).  The Industrial Revolution in America: Communications  Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO
  6. American School of Correspondence, Chicago (1919). Volume 1 of Cyclopedia of Telephony and Telegraphy Chicago, American School of Correspondence
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Spaceship Earth – Industrial Revolution: Electric Telegraph

First – check out this Q&A about Optical Telegraphs.  Optical Telegraphs were a system of communication by means of visual signals using towers and shutters.  They are really neat and the precursor to the Electric Telegraph.


The electric telegraph system sent and received electrical signals over long-distance wires and revolutionized communications in the 1900’s.  It took a newly found understanding of electromagnetism to achieve its success.  In 1820 Hans Christian Ørsted observed a magnetic field is generated when an electric current travels a wire.

Joseph Henry discovered that by insulating the wire, the electric current is able to travel long distances without diminishing.  He was also the first to coil the insulated wire tightly around an iron core in order to make a powerful electromagnet (3).

The real key to the longer distance transmission of current as used by the telegraph was with a relay device which is powered by the aforementioned electromagnet (1).  The relay works by taking a signal that arrives from one circuit and re-transmits it as an amplified signal to another circuit (4).

Railroad Alliance

There is good reason that the telegraph office in this scene is along rail road tracks.  In 1843 a grant from Congress was awarded to build telegraph lines parallel to rail tracks.   Later, during 1852-1860, about 23,000 miles of wires were hung and 3/4 of the telegraph stations were located in train depots (1).


This telegraph office was run by the Western Union Company.  The map on the wall of the office maps out the locations of the telegraph stations.


The locations of the stations look like constellations – our first web or network  if you will.   This web spared steadily and by 1866 the first underwater wire between US and Europe was installed – The Atlantic Cable.


Telegraph Stations in the United States, the Canadas and Nova Scotia Barr, Chas. B., Published 1853. From : The Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Telegraph Operation

Here we see a telegraph operator at the telegraph key.  The key is the push lever that connects and disconnects the circuit in order to transmit signals.  The operator presses and releases the level according to the morse code patterns. Short pulses made a dot, slightly longer pulses a dash.


The telegraph operator can also read incoming messages that come through the register or recorder.  These gentlemen are currently receiving a message that “the golden spike had been laid at Promontory Peak”  – a ceremonial spike to join the rails of the Transcontinental Railroad across the United States (5).

The telegraph message is about news from 1869 however the details on the slips indicate that this scene is from the 1890’s.


Since 2008 this telegraph office has really picked up in business.  They added a relay to their setup as well as a type writer.

Spaceship Earth-(10-2009)-030

Here is an attempt at a zoom in with the telegraph equipment in use.


Important information about birth/death and travel plans can be shared in a matter of hours, not days to months.  The newspapers would also use the telegraph for breaking news.


The system was revolutionary but had its limits.   At first, the wires would get clogged with congestion but more automated methods eased this burden.   It could also be costly as the customers had to pay per word and these messages had to be shared with the telegraph operators which would raise privacy concerns (1).


Because animatronics are complex, time intensive to create, and expensive – its common to duplicate the models that are made and dress them differently.   In this scene – the Telegraph Operator is said to also be the Mathew Brady in American Adventure (3).

brady operator

The Telegraph Reporter is said to also be the Store Owner in American Adventure.

store owner reporter

February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)


November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007 (narrated by Jeremy Irons)


May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994 (narrated by Walter Cronkite)

With electronic communications, we can send messages instantly over long distances. Signals and voices criss-cross the nation.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986 (narrated by Larry Dobkin)


July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script


  1. Hillstrom, K. & L.C. (2007).  The Industrial Revolution in America: Communications  Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO
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Spaceship Earth – Industrial Revolution: “Extra! Extra!”

Fast forward 350 years! This scene of the ride introduces us to the start of the Industrial Revolution – where communication changes from word of mouth over trade routes and books to the daily dissemination of information.

Steam Printing Press

After Gutenberg’s press not much changed for over 100 years! There were further developments over time that increased the productivity of the printing press. In 1620 we were introduced to the Blaew Press  with a  modified screw and a rolling bed.  Various iterations of the press were developed between 1798 with the Stanhope Press made of cast iron through Samuel Rusts’s “Washington Press” in 1827 which introduced a toggle and a lighter frame (1).

The first attempt to mechanize printing was around 1823 when Daniel Treadwell added gears and power to a wooden-framed platen press.   In order to print in large numbers quickly a rotary press was invented in 1844 by Richard Hoe.  A rotary press prints on paper when it passes between two cylinders; one cylinder supports the paper, and the other cylinder contains the print plates or mounted type. The first rotary press could print up to 8,000 copies per hour (2).

“The foundation and growth of newspapers first published periodically, and finally each day, created a demand for machines which should print with rapidity.”

William Bullock of Pennsylvania created the first printing machine to print from a continuous roll of paper in 1865 (around the time of the end of the civil war) (1).

Bullock Press

Copyright Hoe, R. (1902). New York, Roe Printing Press

In this scene we are in a New York City newspaper printing shop as a pressman works on the daily newspaper.   According to Jim Korkis, the printing press here was designed from the actual patent drawings filed by William Bullock in 1863 (3).   It certainly appears to be a rotary press however its difficult to see the giant roll of paper if it exists.


The Newspaper

There were some subtle changes to this ride post 2008.  Before  2008, the background of the press was in darkness and the previous newspaper didn’t show a prominent headline which was accurate for this era of newspaper printing.

End of the Civil War - New York Times Front Page Reprint

End of the Civil War – New York Times Front Page Reprint



The addition of the prominent headline makes sense for show purposes as it helps to define where we are in the timeline.  The new version of the scene also shows many more newspapers available from the press.

The Library of Congress has online archives of various newspapers from this era that show similar, less prominent headlines.


Newspapers became the primary means by which community leaders, political activists,  writers, religious leaders, business owners and others shared their issues over distances both large and small (4).  Even with daily newspapers, news had a lag where foreign correspondents would send their stories via letter that took weeks to arrive at the editors’ office.

The Pressman

This fella has had a makeover – got a haircut, added some glasses and facial hair.   I can’t quite tell if its the same animatronic or if he just had a makeover.

version1 version2

Regardless, the pressman is African American and this is very important because this time was the beginning of the African-American Civil Rights Movement with The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granting citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male* persons in the United States “without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.”

*Women are still getting the shaft here!   Its important to note that this was about 150 years ago from present time – which is the blink of an eye compared to the rest of this ride’s timeline.  Something to think about, not just for women but any underrepresented group.

Extra! Extra!

Congress created the U.S. Post Office in 1792 with he legal responsibility to circulate knowledge of all kinds across throughout the nation (4).  For those not getting their newspaper delivered, there were newspaper street vendors.  Special issues of newspapers outside the normal print were called “extra” editions, hence the term “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”.


This paperboy won the hearts of so many time travelers!   Unfortunately, after the 2008 refurb, the paperboy was turned away.   With the additional lighting in the back of the press the point of view of the time traveler is that of a more behind the scenes so the paperboy is now selling papers towards the street.  It must be cooler in that corner because he’s wearing more sweaters than before.

extra extra


Extra! Extra! New York Daily!


Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Radio, telephone links two continents. Read all about it. Telephone crosses Atlantic. Get your evening paper here! (5)

2008 – Present

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Lee surrenders at Appomattox! Civil War is over! Extra! Extra! (6)


Because animatronics are complex, time intensive to create, and expensive – its common to duplicate the models that are made and dress them differently.   In this scene – the Pressman is said to also be the Banjo Player from the Depression scene in American Adventure (3).

version1  bajo


February 15, 2008 – current (narrated by Judy Dench)

Books it seems were just the beginning. Now communication technology races head long into the future, and soon people all over the world are sharing life’s most important moments faster than ever before.

November 23, 1994 to July 9, 2007 (narrated by Jeremy Irons)

On this wave of inspiration, we sailed into a bold, new era of communication bringing an explosion of tools and technologies which would bridge people around the world as never before. And as our appetite for information and knowledge grew, the world began to shrink.

May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994 (narrated by Walter Cronkite)

On this wave of inspiration, we sail into a bold, new era. An age of astounding inventions and ever increasing progress in communications.

October 1, 1982 – May 25, 1986 (narrated by Larry Dobkin)

The Renaissance, a beacon through the mists of time, guiding us to a new era. A time of invention and exploding communication.

July 22, 1977 – Ray Bradbury script

We built new towns – we made machines and powered them with steam. Around the World small campfires grew – became a massive blaze. Each campfire gathered millions in – Many faces, many Colors – many Tongues and Cultures joined…And then we asked ourselves: How in a world so vast as this — how keep the Campfires lit, how stay in touch to make So many men and women talk and think and move toward common dreams?

  1. Hoe, R. (1902). A Short History of the Printing Press and of the Improvements in Printing Machinery from the Time of Gutenberg Up to the Present Day  New York, Roe Printing Press
  4. Hillstrom, K. & L.C. (2007).  The Industrial Revolution in America: Communications  Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO
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