Friday, March 14, 2008

UNBOTTLED GENIES -- THE CHEMITRON AT DISNEYLAND

Disneyland Monsanto Chemitron Rendering 1955I'm absolutely fascinated by many of the early exhibits at Disneyland that I've only read about, whether it be desert rocks glowing like colorful gemstones under black light, a giant model of a human blood cell, a monumental clock of the world, or even an aluminum pig. Many intriguing dioramas, murals, and models - the work of anonymous artists funded by some of America's most formidable corporations- are barely a footnote in the Park's history, overshadowed by today's less ambitious delights of churros and fast-passes.

Some of the displays were so "high concept" it's difficult to imagine that they ever managed to get their point across. Take for instance the "CHEMITRON" - the all but forgotten centerpiece of Monsanto's Hall of Chemistry attraction in mid-century Tomorrowland.

“Upon entering Monsanto’s Hall of Chemistry, you will see the CHEMITRON…huge shining test tubes of the eight basic materials found in nature, from which countless chemicals and plastics can be made: Salt, coal, air, oil, sulfur, phosphate rock, water, and limestone -- but from those eight common substances come almost 500 different Monasanto chemicals and plastics. "

Monsanto Chemitron at Disneyland 1956

Artistically the Chemitron was a knock-out. Oddly art-deco in its design, the "eight basic materials" are depicted as imposing human figures - male and female - silently rising up above their glass cylinders like unbottled genies. Each a mythological god or goddess of the supernatural chemical world, standing waist deep in colored "liquid" -like an assortment of pancake syrups at IHOP.

"Air", for example, was embodied as an ethereal female with her hair floating up toward the ceiling. The crystalline sculpture of "Salt" had an almost cubistic nature, and glossy "Oil" was sleek and fluid. Figures representing translucent properties were internally lit and staggered between more opaque figures, like coal or sulfur.

Disneyland Monsanto Chemistry Display

"In the ceiling above the “Chemitron” spreads the arm of chemistry which transforms these eight basic materials into hundreds of chemicals and thousands of products we use and enjoy. In the hand is a ball of fire, symbol of the complex processes necessary for this transformation. Through the arm's arteries of industry, the chemicals are formed into products that affect our everyday lives.”

Disneyland Monsanto Hall of Chemistry

So. Whatever became of the Chemitron, I wonder? In contrast to the juvenile marketing of today's Disneyland, it's difficult to imagine it could really have ever existed at all.

Perhaps somewhere in this world there's a vaguely female-ish figure that once represented "phosphate rock" to perplexed Disneyland guests - now dusty and forgotten behind the water heater in someone's garage. A genie waiting to be freed...

12 comments:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Wow...

What a great post. This is an attraction that I've read about (Disneyland: Inside Story and The Nickel Tour) but I would love to see more!

Thanks!

jedblau said...

Terrific drawings and insight. Kevin....where did you get these????

Davelandweb said...

Did Disney create the figures for the Monsanto exhibit, or did Monsanto provide those?

Kevin Kidney said...

Thank you guys! I think from now on I can handle 2 new posts a week. You guys who can do this everyday are NUTS. But I dearly look forward to my daily visit to your offerings!

Dave, the Chemitron design and figures were provided by Monsanto, as far as I can tell. These early exhibits were so ephemeral, and even WDI doesn't seem to have much info on file, except for the same brochures and giveaways that were available to the public. Disneyland leased out the empty floor space, and the sponsors (Monsanto, Kaiser, Dutch Boy, etc) brought in their own shows and a staff to operate them. I would love to know even more about these sponsored exhibits and the stories behind their creation! I guess you could say they were not that much different from some of the (lackluster) displays in Innoventions today, but being a product of their time, they had great style!

Major Pepperidge said...

This stuff is just amazing. Super rare drawings from almost-forgotten attractions. Thanks so much for letting us all see it (and yes, the writing is great too)!

Progressland said...

If anybody's up for some archival research in St. Louis, the Monsanto Company records are at Washington University in St. Louis. There are a number of things in the guide for Monsanto's Disneyland exhibits; these are pertinent to the Hall of Chemistry:

Series 09: Company Events:
* Exhibits and Visual Art (Hall of Chemistry)

Series 27: Photos of Business Matters/Company History
* Exhibits - Monsanto Hall of Chemistry (Disneyland)

Chris Jepsen said...

Wow! Great stuff, Kevin!

The Hall of Chemistry is one of those strange situations were images and postcards are fairly common, but information is rare. Thanks for sharing!

progressland: Good job tracking down the Monsanto records.

Debbie V. said...

I loved the Hall of Chemistry and even got a postcard when I was there. If I remember correctly, the Adventures through Inner Space ride let you off into the Monsanto exhibit.

jriggity said...

Cool stuff man!

I never even heard of this exibit.

jriggity

Hanford said...

Amazing as always, Kevin.

outsidetheberm said...

Wow! Great post! Thank you.

-idogcow said...

Back when Big Science was noble and was going to lead us to better days.

Never knew of this until now, thanks for the story.