Yesterland

Homage to the

Moonliner

An icon of Tomorrowland

Two icons of Disneyland’s early Tomorrowland endure, even though the originals were destroyed in the 1960s. One is the House of the Future, which is still the subject of homage. The other is the TWA Moonliner, which stood at the entrance to the Rocket to the Moon attraction.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, January 25, 2013


Moonliner at Rocket to the Moon in Tomorrowland

Photo by Fred Nelson, 1959

The original Moonliner at Rocket to the Moon

The TWA Moonliner rocket at Disneyland was a bold vision of the future when Disneyland opened in 1955. By a decade later, it had become yesterday’s technology in a land called Tomorrowland. The Moonliner was too old to be current, yet too new to seem quaint or to evoke nostalgia. It wasn’t cool or fun. It was just out-of-date.

Disneyland guests of the mid-1960s knew what real NASA rockets looked like. They didn’t have three retractable legs or graceful, curved bodies that formed a point at the top. And concept art for space travel in the 1970s and beyond didn’t show anything that resembled the Moonliner.

Tomorrowland closed in 1966 to make way for the New Tomorrowland of 1967. After having spent seven years in TWA colors and four years in Douglas Aircraft colors, the Moonliner disappeared.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, the elegant rocket from 1955 was no longer representative of the future or even the present.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Mike McKiernan, 1995

Tomorrowland display at the park entrance for the 40th anniversary of Disneyland

Fast-forward to 1995, the 40th anniversary of Disneyland. Displays at the entrance to the park showed historical photos and featured retro art. The coolest of all was the Tomorrowland display, complete with a cut-out Moonliner.

With the passage of time, the design of the Moonliner had become very cool—and a perfect photo op.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Moonliner III at Disneyland

In 1998, Disneyland again opened a New Tomorrowland. This time, it would represent a retro-future. With this theme, the Moonliner would be the perfect focal point.

Too bad it had been scrapped.

“It was Imagineer Bruce Gordon who oversaw the renovation of Tomorrowland,” explained Dan Viets, owner of the Moonliner II. “Bruce specifically advocated for recreating the original Moonliner as part of that renovation. He was not able to sell the idea of a full-scale replica, but he is responsible for the fact that the present Moonliner III stands in Tomorrowland today. Bruce later went to work for the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco before his untimely passing. His contributions to Disneyland and to the Walt Disney Family Museum deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated by Disney history fans.”

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2008

Coca Cola, not TWA

After an absence of more than 30 years, Tomorrowland once again had a Moonliner. The distinctive white and red paint scheme of the 1955 version, which had mimicked the paint scheme of TWA airliners, was back—except without a TWA logo. It made a perfect color scheme for Coca Cola.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

Tomorrowland 1955 in Tomorrrowland 2005

In 2005, the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, another display honored the Moonliner (along with the World Clock). This time, it was a display window in Tomorrowland.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Rocket to the Moon attraction poster inside Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port

Vintage attraction posters decorate Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port. The Rocket to the Moon poster is especially fitting, considering that the restaurant is in the building that had been home to Flight to the Moon and Mission to Mars, the successor attractions to Rocket to the Moon.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Tomorrowland nostalgia exhibit at Disneyland Showcase on Main Street

For the 55th anniversary of Disneyland in 2010, the Disneyland Showcase shop on Town Square had a series of exhibits about the park’s past—complete with homage to the Moonliner.

homage to the Moonliner

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Nostalgia banner on the exterior of Innoventions at Disneyland

Since opening in 1998, Innoventions has been a good spot for Moonliner sightings. The Flying Saucers banner on its exterior prominently features the Moonliner. Another Moonliner is at a downstairs entrance, while a detailed model has been displayed inside.

Rocket to the Moon homage at an entrance to the Innoventions at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

A downstairs entrance to Innoventions at Disneyland
 

Rocket to the Moon homage in the Innoventions Dream Home at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Rocket to the Moon homage in the Innoventions Dream Home at Disneyland
 

Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2006

Moonliner in Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

Walt Disney World never had a Moonliner in its Tomorrowland, but it has a model in Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, a museum about Walt Disney at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Moonliner desk accessories

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Moonliner desk accessories

Finally, there are two Moonliners in the Yesterland office, albeit just desk accessories bought at the Disney Store.

Yesterland has more articles about the Moonliner.


Is this book part of your collection?

Dan Viets is one of the authors of Walt Disney’s Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius (Kansas City Star Books), along with Brian Burnes and Robert W. Butler.

It’s one of my favorites on my Disney bookshelf—a perfect balance of historical images and well-researched, well-written text in a large-format, hardcover book. There’s even a chapter about Walt Disney’s plan for an indoor theme park for St. Louis, with actual plan drawings. To learn more about the book, please read the review from George Taylor at the Amazon link to the left.

— Werner Weiss    

book cover: Walt Disney's Missouri

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Updated February 21, 2014.