When Disney Was a Mid-Century Modern Icon

Remembering the Happiest Place of the Space Age
Early concept art for Tomorrowland at Disneyland

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

For about 20 years, between the end of World War II and the assassination of President Kennedy, America was obsessed with modern design. The abstract shapes and bold geometry of the space age created a new aesthetic that affected art, architecture, and every sort of creative endeavor.

The new book Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Disney’s Magical Mid-Century by veteran animation producer Don Hahn explores the design and culture of the 1950s and ’60s as seen through the eyes of Walt Disney.

Walt Disney with model of the moon

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The illustrations and vintage photography from films and TV shows, classic Disneyland attractions, and Walt’s interest in everything from bowling, skiing, and World’s Fairs are magnificent windows into a swanky high design world where every object appears ready to blast off into space.

Monsanto House of the Future at Disneyland

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Modern angles crept into every corner of the Disney universe, screaming out from toy packaging, neon signs, and even the credit sequences in movies. The book’s gorgeous endpapers are based on vintage Disneyland shopping bags.

Disneyland monorail under construction on the Disney backlot

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Hahn, who produced The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, began his career at the studio in the 1970s as many of the great artists from the early years were winding down theirs.

Scene from “Magic Highway, U.S.A.” (1958)

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Hahn also produced documentaries about Disney legends Richard Sherman and Tyrus Wong. The book has a real insider feel that comes from personal relationships with these mid-century masters, and brings a lost world back into focus.

Walt Disney test driving a Disneyland Flying Saucer

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Concept art for Adventure Thru Inner Space at Disneyland

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

“New Tomorrowland” at Disneyland opened in 1967

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.


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