Georges Nagelmackers, the inventor of luxury trains
Georges Nagelmackers, born on 25 June 1845 in Liège, was a Belgian civil engineer and industrialist. He designed the major European luxury trains, in particular the first Orient Express. Little Georges came from a wealthy family; his great-great-grandfather, Pierre Nagelmackers, founded the first Belgian bank in 1747. He was disinterested in banking and graduated cum laude as a civil engineer. His doomed love lay at the basis of his exceptional career. His father decided to send his son, who was infatuated with his cousin, to New York to keep his mind on other things. The journey launched his career as an industrialist. During the crossing, he met Samuel Cunard, the founder of the Cunard Line, and together they discussed the welcome and service provision on transatlantic passenger ships. For months, he journeyed across America as a tourist and was interested in the night trains from George Pullman of the Pullman Company, as well as the discomfort of the travellers – especially that of the ladies, who complained about a lack of privacy. He made notes and sketches, convinced that these would provide wealthy customers from the old continent with a more comfortable train journey.
Being mindful of his disillusioning American experience, his credo consisted of three words: speed, luxury and comfort. Rail transport, which was still very rudimentary, needed to be improved, offering affluent passengers the comfort of sleeper carriages and the luxury that Europeans were accustomed to. Belgium is tiny, so naturally he was thinking of an international network that was separate from the existing national railway lines. In fact, he wanted a palace on rails that connected several European capitals. In 1870, he proposed a project that did not receive the attention it deserved because of the Franco-German war. However, in that same year, he was granted a permit to operate a carriage between Ostend and Brindisi (Southern Italy). Two years later, thanks to Leopold II, he won a contract for the Paris-Vienna line. He did not rest until his dream trains were traversing the whole of Europe, regardless of the political and technical obstacles to be overcome. In 1876, he founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL), but he continued to strive for greater travel comfort: the buffet carriage, with two dining rooms for 12 diners, dates from 1882, and two years later the saloon carriage made its appearance, definitively establishing the company's reputation for supreme luxury.
But the true legend was born on 4 October 1883 in Paris, when a locomotive, a tender, two sleeper carriages, a buffet carriage and two luggage carriages sped towards Constantinople (Istanbul) – the capital of the Ottoman Empire – a journey of 3,000km! And to guarantee travellers the same luxury upon arrival, Georges Nagelmackers founded the Compagnie Internationale des Grands Hôtels, of which the Pera Palace in Istanbul is part.
Georges Nagelmackers died at the age of 60, his years having exhausted him, in Villepreux near Versailles.