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Disneyland Article
Disney Attraction Powered By Nuclear Weapons Tech

Enchanted Tiki Room
ID:
TMS-4056
Source:
Popular Mechanics
Author:
Kyle Mizokami
Dateline:
January 16, 2019
Posted:
January 28, 2019
Status:
Current
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On June 23, 1963, Walt Disney opened his famous Tiki Room on the grounds of Disneyland. Featuring animatronic animals, a Polynesian atmosphere, and nonalcoholic tiki drinks, the Tiki Room quickly became a hit with visitors to the California theme park. What visitors did not know was that the Tiki Room's beating heart was derived from nuclear weapons technology, missiles that could devastate the Soviet Union in a nuclear war.

As Los Angeles' KCET explains, Disney's Tiki Room was an enormously complex enterprise. The room operated at the cutting edge of audio-visual technology, complete with lights, sounds, and "Audio-Animatronic" performers. The room had four animatronic macaws that acted as masters of ceremonies for their human guests, as well as 225 animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis that moved, talked, and sang.

Coordinating the entire nightly show was a daunting task, but Disney came up with a solution. Disney had signed on German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, who worked on the Army's Jupiter ballistic missile and then NASA's spaceflight programs. It was reportedly this deal that resulted in missile guidance technology in the form of a 14-channel tape recorder using one-inch magnetic tape. The tape recorder provided the complex set of commands that ran the show. (Reportedly, the control room for the Tiki Room was larger than the exhibit itself.)

According to KCET, "Disney's Imagineers used the magnetic tape system from Polaris to synchronize the air and fluid tubes which drove the electromechanical birds' movements. The tape also controlled the lighting and music through audio impulses, synchronizing the performances and effects with the soundtrack. The computer system filled the entire basement under the Tiki Room and, because of the heat generated by the machinery and the need to keep the system cool, the Tiki Room became the first air-conditioned attraction at Disneyland."

The tape recorder is commonly thought to have come from the Navy's Polaris missile, the first submarine-launched ballistic missile. First operational in the 1960s, Polaris carried a single 200-kiloton nuclear warhead. However, Von Braun never worked on Polaris, working instead on the Army/Navy Jupiter missile, so the German scientist either provided Disney with components of the Jupiter's guidance system-which was probably very similar to Polaris' guidance system-or some other arrangement was made for the transfer of Polaris technology.

Today, KCET notes, the Tiki Room is controlled by the equivalent of an Apple Macbook. For a time, however, one of the star attractions at the Happiest Place on Earth was in part controlled by a device designed for nuclear destruction.
 
Attractions Referenced

Enchanted Tiki Room

 
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