NMA E-Newsletter #313: The Wonderful World of Driving circa 1958

Those of us of a certain age fondly remember the Sunday night TV ritual of watching “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Tucked in among all of the Disney standards like Davey Crockett and The Absent Minded Professor was a particularly compelling episode from 1958 extolling the virtues of the burgeoning interstate highway system. Turns out that Walt and Mickey were friends of the motorist.

At least that’s what we’ve concluded after watching the episode, which came to us from a Michigan member. Watch it below and see for yourself.

Overall, we were struck by the enthusiastic, hopeful tone. Consider Walt’s opening comments beginning at the 1:54 mark:

One of the many freedoms we enjoy today, yet often take for granted, is the freedom of the American road, to come and go as we please in our pursuit of happiness. Today we enjoy the pleasure and convenience of going places in engineering marvels such as this modern automobile. 

Sounds like something right out of the NMA’s Motorist Bill of Rights. Too bad many of those driving freedoms we used to enjoy have become things of the past. Can you imagine a prominent public figure saying something like this today? The narrative is unabashed in its praise for the developing interstate highway system, highlighting its importance in enhancing our quality of life. Listen to this at the 3:35 mark:

Our roads are the lifeline of America, channeling our everyday needs. Materials to build our homes, fuel for a thousand daily uses, and meat on our tables. Roads to make a better world, to protect our lives and property, for our national defense … this is the freedom of the American road. Our growing abundance and our pursuit of happiness is dependent upon the greatest highway system in the world. 

And here at 23:55:

This multi-billion dollar highway program will more than pay for itself in the time and money it will save us, the new wealth it will create and the thousands of lives it will save. This is the biggest building project in the history of man. 

Check out this early, and more literal form of Lane Courtesy at 13:22. And this prediction about the coming gridlock and the importance of proper planning and engineering at 22:05:

By 1975 we estimate there will be at least 100 million automobiles in America. Now because of these ever increasing loads on our highway system, we must plan and build for the future right now. To solve this problem the planning of highways must be based on the way they’re used. The highway engineer has to satisfy you, the driver. 

The creation of the U.S. interstate highway system was a monumental achievement, made even more remarkable by the fact that so much of the design was completed “by hand,” without the aid of computers—and the computers that were used were of the mammoth punch-card variety. Just watch the sequence from 26:00 – 29:15.

At 36:00 motorists weigh in with their own suggestions for vehicle and highway design improvements. We’re particularly intrigued by the disposable highway vehicle and the do-it-yourself highway.

Predictions about the highway of the future begin at 39:30. In classic Disney fashion we’re presented with fanciful notions like the “sun powered electro suspension car” and “miles of tubular highways.” But some of the ideas were remarkably prescient. For example radar-equipped cars that can better “see” objects near them, electronic safety controls including rearview cameras, driverless cars equipped with video conferencing capabilities, and even centralized control of the entire communications grid.

To wrap things up, the narrator concludes at 47:55: “As in the past, the highway will continue to play a vital role in the progress of civilization.”

A little idealistic? Maybe. But we appreciate the sentiment. It’s a far cry from today where most people fail to recognize the benefits provided by a modern, safe highway system that allows the free movement of people and goods. We only wish Walt were still around to help us fight for it.

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