Friday, June 5, 2009

June 05: The Man Behind Alweg

On this day in 1881, Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, a Swedish entrepreneur was born in Uddevalla, Sweden. One of the wealthiest men in the world during the 1930s, his fortune can be traced back to the domestic vacuum cleaner! Working for a company named Electrolux (then a Swedish lighting company specializing in outdoor kerosene lamps), Wenner-Gren persuaded his employee to buy a patent to a cleaner ... and pay him for sales in company stock. By the early 1930s, Electrolux was owned by Wenner-Gren and the company was a leading brand in both vacuum cleaner and refrigeration technology. By 1933 Electrolux established their first American plant in Connecticut. What does a wealthy business manager and his successful vacuum company have to do with Disney?
Among Wenner-Gren's many interests were also monorail train systems. (Believe it or not, the first monorail was made in Russia back in 1820.) The talented industrial magnate used his Electrolux wealth to start a company called Alweg in January 1953. (Alweg is an acronym of Wenner-Gren's name: Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren.) In 1957 a monorail prototype accidentally caught the attention of Walt Disney while in Europe. Disney liked what he saw and Wenner-Gren's company went on to help Disney designers build the original Disneyland Monorail System, which debuted in June 1959. Alweg later built the Seattle Center Monorail which opened in 1962. Both U.S. systems remain in operation to this day! Although the Alweg Monorail made history, it was also unfortunately type-cast in the U.S. as a theme park ride only. Wenner-Gren had hoped that the city of Los Angeles would embrace his monorail as the basis for a public transportation system, but he was turned down.
His monorail venture was not his only project that looked to the future of technology. Wenner-Gren is considered to be one of the pioneers of the computer industry. He sponsored computer research and production especially to be able to someday use computers to control his monorails!
Although he lived to see Disneyland's great success with his futuristic transportation system, Axel Wenner-Gren passed away in 1961 never knowing he would later influence another monorail system 10 years later ... in Florida.

Click HERE for more June 05 Disney History.

1 comment:

Timberline said...

Really fascinating! There are so many mixed stories about the advent of the monorail--good to see the real one.