Disney's Magic Highway USA is a Future that Never was

Ah, highway motoring in the 21st century: the epitome of fast, safe and comfortable transportation for the masses. Where there are rarely more than half a dozen cars on the road and the family relaxes with a board game while their car automatically whisks them to work or to the shops.

The 21st century: where traffic accidents are dealt with by airborne units that are police, fire and ambulance all rolled into one and road works cause only minimal delays thanks to prefabricated components and enormous road laying machines.

And what would 21st century motoring be without our cantilevered sky ways, non-stop freight ways and undersea transcontinental highways, all of which are as commonplace today as trains were seventy years ago?

Don't worry; I haven't gone off my rocker. This is the 21st century motoring gospel according to "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color", a television program produced from 1954 to 1990 and hosted by Old Man Disney himself up until 1967. This particular segment is called, "Magic-Highway USA" and aired in 1958.

If you hadn't already guessed, this segment is looking at the future of personal motoring. Let's start with the things they got right:

Automated traffic announcements are becoming more and more prevalent. Satellite navigation and rear view cameras, once the realm of pure fantasy, are standard or optional on almost all cars these days. And there are BMWs that can read speed limits off of signs.

Bus rapid transit - increasingly common in major cities - emulates Disney's proposed freight ways, while undersea tunnels such as the one underneath Tokyo Bay have been around for decades. And the modern RV / motorhome has all the comforts of home.

Of course, there are some things the filmmakers got tragically wrong:

The tubular, air conditioned highways and the "sun powered electro suspension car" are two things we are likely to never see. It is here we move away from plausibility and into Ford Nucleon territory. Speaking of which, whatever happened to the atomic car?

By Tristan Hankins