News Culture

Department Store Monorails Are a Memory Kids These Days Won’t Have

We've traded fun like this for the convenience of online shopping.
Rocket Express kids' monorail in a mall in the 2000s
RocPic.com via Peter Dibble on YouTube

In the era of online shopping, department stores are but a hazy memory of a bygone era. Even with all the convenience Amazon offers, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve lost something—especially the ceremonial experience of visiting a holiday market. Kids today just don’t get that experience, meaning they also miss out on something many older folks still remember: Riding the overhead monorail at the store.

This may sound familiar if you grew up near one of the roughly 26 stores across the United States that operated such rides around the winter holidays. These “Rocket Express” monorails (as they were often called) were the subject of a recent video by Peter Dibble on YouTube, who cataloged the attractions’ history and propagation.

These monorails were dotted around the U.S. in various department stores and malls starting in 1946, with the introduction of one at a Philadelphia-area store. The ride had been manufactured in part by industrial machinery company Louden, which supplied the overhead rails, while the rolling stock was made by a company calling itself Rocket Express—hence the train’s name.

The monorails were sold or leased to stores, which ran them above their toy departments, giving kids birds-eye views of entire store floors. Also, it let them torment shoppers: they often tossed pennies at them from above, or fired squirt guns at them and sometimes even spit on people. (Kids these days, blah blah blah.)

Approximately 22 to 26 of these rides were operated around the country between 1946 and 2007, when the last known kiddie monorail was retired before the New York mall it ran in was demolished. (The train was preserved in a museum, but doesn’t run any more.) It’s hard to imagine attractions like these disappearing if brick-and-mortar retail hadn’t withered over the last 15 years, owing to an unstable economy and digital retail’s coming-of-age.

I dunno about you, but I’d be willing to give up free shipping to shop somewhere with kids riding a train overhead—even if they’re tossing coins at me. It’s free money, I say.

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