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Georges Nagelmakers: a bold entrepreneur

In 1876, rail travel was in its infancy in Europe. Long journeys and international travels were anything but a nightmare. Trains could not cross borders and passenger coach were most unconfortable.

A young Belgian engineer, Georges Nagelmackers, had the vision of a different story when he travelled to the US in 1870. He started the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits in 1872 and soon created his first luxury coaches for travels between Paris and Ostende, then Koln and Vienna...

Mr Nagelmackers’ talent was to negotiate the multiple contracts to run international trains, while setting up the complex infrastructure of CIWL.

His personal relationship with Leopold - king of Belgium and personal investor in the early CIWL- helped him raise the needed capital by issuing new shares on the stock markets. It also helped to initiate diplomatic talks at the highest level for future international trains.

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Rapid expansion of CIWL luxury trains

Success was immediate and soon there were 58 sleeping coaches showing the latest innovations in confort. In order to accelerate the development of his company, he raised more capital, with king Leopold of Belgium as one of his first shareholders.

With such luxury and comfort, royalties, celebrities and rich businessmen started to travel more and more on Wagons-Lits trains.

CIWL soon became one of the most important travel empire in the Europe, stretching from Europe to Asia and Africa.

It is important to note that even when CIWL moved to Paris, CIWL always kept alive its Belgian roots, with a statutory quota of a third of CIWL’s directors being Belgian. A more symbolic illustration is the Wagons-Lits golden logo, with the Two lions recalling the heraldic signs of the Belgian kingdom.