Disney's Atomic Fleet
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Our Friend The Atom, both as a telefilm and a companion book printed in several languages by Western Publishing, was an enormous success. This was followed by the further cooperation of General Dynamics, the U.S. government, and Disney in the development of a new US $2,500,000 ride at Disneyland, composed of eight air-conditioned "atomic" submarines. The "Tomorrowland" section of Disney's Magic Kingdom now had the largest fleet of "atomic" submarines in the world. On June 14, 1959, in front of millions of ABC television viewers, Vice-President Richard Nixon and family joined Rear Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick of the U.S. Navy and Walt Disney in the maiden voyage of the Disney submarine fleet. A highlight of the ride was a cruise past a graveyard of sunken ships.
One indication of how successfully this ride propagandized the American atomic arms program came from a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, who enthused that "all these things were turned, by Disney magic and with Disney color, to sheer fun, as though the real purpose of technological achievement, after all, was human happiness." Although Our Friend The Atom and the "atomic" submarine ride at Disneyland were not to be the only examples of cold-war propaganda carried out by Disney, they were in many ways representative of an ongoing network of connections between sections of Disney's Magic Kingdom, the broadcasting networks, the publishing industry, defense contractors, and the state.
Mark Langer teaches film at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and a programmer of animation retrospectives.
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