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ALWEG - The Vision
ALWEG - Die Vision

Der erste Alweg-Versuchszug in Köln-Fühlingen. - Alweg's first test-train in Cologne-Fühlingen. COPYRIGHT Reinhard Krischer

The financier of the Alweg monorail system, Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, founder of the Swedish based Electrolux company and described as a Swedish-born international industrialist, financier, and philanthropist, wrote the following preface to an Alweg information brochure in May 1953:

" ... It is my firm conviction, crystallized out of ideas and experiences which long have been generating in my mind, that many of the ills besetting the world today are due to the lack of adequate instruments to assist man in the gigantic task of distributing the fruits of his labor. The impact of this lack throughout large areas of the world usually is not recognized by those peoples who already enjoy an efficient transportation system.

As the pressures of population growth increase, the burden of distribution becomes heavier and more backs are bent in the struggles of life. Faster, safer and cheaper transportation will lighten man's burden and make it possible for all peoples to draw more fully upon the wealth of their natural resources and to exchange them throughout the world.

By shrinking time and distance, improved transportation facilities will bring the peoples of the world closer together in ways of living, customs and language. Thus they will be a force for peace. Mass-minded understanding of each other's problems, needs and anticipations will tend to encourage the erasure of the barriers of nationalism and substitute therefore an environment of peaceful endeavor among men."

Im Jahre 1952 konnte nichts besser die Alweg-Vision verdeutlichen als der erste Modell-Versuchszug bei seiner bis zu 160kmh schnellen Fahrt durch die überhöhten Kurven der Teststrecke. Imaging und COPYRIGHT Reinhard Krischer. - In 1952 nothing better illustrated the Alweg vision than the first scaled-down Alweg test-train leaning into the superelevated test-track curves. It is reported to have reached speeds up to 160 kmh. Imaging and COPYRIGHT Reinhard Krischer.

ith his diverse worldwide business interests Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, born on June 5, 1881 in Uddevalla, Sweden, could from today's point of view be seen as a precursor of globalization concepts. His talents as business manager and innovator helped make the Swedish Electrolux company one of the first successful multinational enterprises and founded Dr. Wenner-Gren's formidable reputation. Electrolux is to this day successful worldwide and Dr. Wenner-Gren's important role in building this company - beginning in 1912 - can already be gleaned from the published facts about its history.

In 1939 Dr. Wenner-Gren resigned as Chairman of the Board and withdrew to the Bahamas. The last entry concerning Dr. Wenner-Gren and Eletrolux states that in 1956 he sold his Electrolux shares to the Swedish Wallenberg business group. From 1934 to 1941 he was also the owner of Svenska Cellulosa AB and he held considerable shares in the arms manufacturer Bofors AB.

Despite his undeniable success with Eletrolux it seems however that the diversity of his many other enterprises at one point was simply too much for just one person to handle. In addition it looks as if Dr. Wenner-Gren had not had enough time to develop the management of his enterprises to such a degree of self-sufficiency that would eventually allow them to grow successfully without his guiding hand. And the question arises if he had misjudged the qualities of the persons chosen by him to continue his vision since after his death they managed some sad bankruptcies.

Perhaps some obvious question marks concerning his biography explain why it is so difficult to readily find publicly available information about his life. Even the two well known foundations that bear his name and were initiated through his generous funding are unable to supply pertinent data about their benefactor (The Wenner-Gren Center Foundation for Scientific Research + The Axel Wenner-Gren Foundation for International Exchange of Scientists in Stockholm founded in 1956 and The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in New York created in 1941). The work of these foundations fits in the scope of Dr. Wenner-Gren's vision and quite possibly he was one of those benefactors who preferred to fund his vision without much personal publicity.

< Note by the author of this website in November 2012: since the year 2000 the website of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, New York, has changed considerably and in contrast to the time the research for this Alweg Archives website and for its author's German book "Alweg-Bahn" began (in the year 2000), more information about Dr. Axel L. Wenner-Gren is now made available on the New York foundation's website. In response to the author's initial request for information the foundations had stated to have no detailed information about Dr. Wenner-Gren. Later requests for information remained unanswered. >

Dr. Wenner-Gren's Alweg Monorail venture was not his only project that looked towards the future of technology. It is not widely known that he can be considered to be one of the pioneers of the computer industry. Dr. Wenner-Gren sponsored computer research and production especially to be able to someday use computers as control devices for his monorail system. During the 1950s Dr. Wenner-Gren's company Logistics Research, Inc. in California built several series of first generation vacuum tube computers best known as Alwac machines (Alwac = Axel Leonard Wenner-Gren Automatic Computer). The development of these computers - later also known as Wegematic machines and built in Sweden - is a story in itself and is well documented by Prof. A. Torn in Early History of Computing in Turku that also contains an interesting biographical compilation of Dr. Wenner-Gren's life. - The importance and ranking of the Alwac machines in computer history is amongst experts evidently a matter of opinion, but if one searches through the collections of scientific institutes and archives dealing with computer history one will invariably also find the name Alwac.

There are similarities between the computer and the monorail ventures of Dr. Wenner-Gren. Both were concerned with technology concepts that seemed at their time rather revolutionary. On the computer sector Dr. Wenner-Gren was a lone competitor against a big, already established firm like IBM. On the transportation sector Dr. Wenner-Gren was up against the entire well established two-rail industry.

Sadly Dr. Wenner-Gren died on November 24, 1961 in Stockholm. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Dr. Wenner-Gren would have had more time and his initial energy to personally guide these ventures.

As it happened however both the computer and the monorail venture went bankrupt soon after Dr. Wenner-Gren's death and not without a certain sad irony is the fact that the selected liquidator was in both cases the very same gentleman...

it seinen weitverzweigten und weltweit operierenden Unternehmen war Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, Schweden, zu seiner Zeit schon ein global agierender Unternehmer. Seine Begabung als Geschäftsmann und sein Talent, neue Ideen aufzuspüren und gewinnbringend zu nutzen, machten die von ihm gegründete schwedische Electrolux-Gesellschaft zu einem der ersten multinational erfolgreichen Konzerne. Electrolux ist noch heute weltweit erfolgreich und Dr. Wenner-Grens Rolle beim Aufbau dieses Konzerns wird in der Chronik des Unternehmens nach wie vor gebührend gewürdigt.

Im Jahre 1939 gab Dr. Wenner-Gren  den Vorsitz seiner Firma ab und zog sich auf die Bahamas zurück. In der Firmenchronik wird Dr. Wenner-Gren letztmalig 1956 erwähnt, als er seine Firmenanteile an die schwedische Wallenberg-Gruppe verkaufte. Von 1934 bis 1941 war er auch Besitzer der Svenska Cellulosa AB und außerdem war er maßgeblich an dem Rüstungsunternehmen Bofors AB beteiligt.

Hinzu kamen unter anderem noch lukrative Unternehmen in Kanada, Südamerika und Mexiko.
Trotz seines phänomenalen Erfolges mit der Firma Electrolux und verschiedensten anderen Unternehmen scheint es so, als ob ab einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt, die Gesamtleitung dieser Geschäfte für nur einen Mann zuviel wurde. Zudem erhebt sich die Frage, ob Dr. Wenner-Gren in seinen letzten Lebensjahren die Führungsqualitäten der von ihm ausgewählten Leute überschätzte, die statt seine Visionen weiter zu verwirklichen nach seinem Tod eher für deren Niedergang sorgten.

Vielleicht liegt es an einigen Abschnitten der Biografie dieses agilen Vorreiters heutiger Globalisierung, dass es so außerordentlich schwierig ist, Daten und Fakten über ihn zu erfahren. Selbst die beiden großen wissenschaftlichen Stiftungen in New York und Stockholm, die seinen Namen tragen, sehen sich außerstande biografische Angaben machen zu können.

< Anmerkung des Autors dieser Webseite im November 2012: seit dem Jahr 2000 hat sich die Webseite der Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, New York, erheblich verändert und im Gegensatz zu jener Zeit, als die Recherchen für diese Alweg Archives Webseite und für das von deren Autor verfaßten Buches "Alweg-Bahn" begannen (im Jahr 2000), wird nun mehr Information über Dr. Axel L. Wenner-Gren auf der Webseite der New Yorker Stiftung angeboten. In Erwiderung der ersten Anfrage des Autors nach Informationen hatten die Stiftungen seinerzeit mitgeteilt, über keine detaillierten Informationen zu Dr. Wenner-Gren zu verfügen. Spätere Anfragen nach Informationen blieben unbeantwortet. >

Weltweite Berühmtheit erlangte er mit seinem Alweg-Einschienenbahn-Projekt. Völlig verdrängt wurde dadurch aber die Tatsache, dass Dr. Wenner-Gren gleichzeitig ein Pionier der Computer-Industrie war. Technisierung und Automation hatten ihn seit jeher interessiert und so ließ er während er 1950er Jahre von seiner kalifornischen Firma Logistics Research, Inc. Computer entwickeln, um eines Tages auch seine Einschienenbahn damit steuern zu können. Die Geschichte dieser als Alwac-Maschinen bekannten Computer – die später auch als Wegematic-Maschinen in Schweden gebaut wurden – ist (in englischer Sprache/siehe folgendes Link) von Professor Aimo Törn in Early History of Computing in Turku bestens dokumentiert worden und enthält auch eine interessante Biografie Dr. Wenner-Grens. - Über die Bedeutung der Alwac-Maschinen in der Geschichte des Computerwesens gibt es verschiedene Meinungen, doch schaut man in die Verzeichnisse von wissenschaftlichen Instituten und Archiven, die sich mit Computer Geschichte befassen, so stößt man meist auch auf den Namen Alwac.

Es gibt interessante Parallelen zwischen dem Computer- und dem
Einschienenbahn-Projekt des Dr. Wenner-Gren. Beide befassten sich mit
technologischen Konzepten, die zu ihrer Zeit revolutionär erschienen. Auf dem
Computer-Sektor stand Dr. Wenner-Gren einer großen, schon lange etablierten Firma
wie IBM alleine gegenüber. Auf dem Verkehrssektor stand er mit seiner Einschienenbahn der gesamten etablierten Zwei-Schienen-Industrie gegenüber.

Leider starb Dr. Wenner-Gren am 24. November, 1961 in Stockholm. Es wäre interessant gewesen zu sehen, wie sich gerade diese beiden Projekte entwickelt
hätten, wenn Dr. Wenner-Gren noch genügend Zeit gehabt hätte, diese persönlich mit seinem ganz besonderen Überzeugungs- und Durchsetzungsvermögen zu leiten.

Doch beide Projekte steuerten schon bald nach seinem Tod auf ihren Niedergang zu und es ist wohl Ironie des Schicksals, dass für beide ein ganz bestimmter von Dr. Wenner-Gren bevorzugter Vertrauter zuständig war ...


Dr. Axel L. Wenner-Gren im Cockpit des Alweg 1:1 Versuchszuges in Köln Fühlingen im Oktober 1957 zusammen mit Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer, der am Fahrpult des Zuges sitzt. - Dr. Axel L. Wenner-Gren in the cockpit of the Cologne-Fühlingen 1:1 Alweg test-train with Federal Chancellor Dr. Konrad Adenauer at the controls in October 1957. COPYRIGHT Reinhard Krischer


The involvement of Dr. Wenner-Gren with monorail technology began in the late 1940ies through his association with Senator John A. Hastings from Los Angeles, California (source: Der Spiegel, # 3, 1956, pages 16-23). Senator Hastings, who was looking for a new mass rapid transit system to alleviate the traffic problems of Los Angeles, had learned of a German patent for a new elevated railroad system designed by a German engineer from Hamburg named Roscher.

Roscher had developed plans for an elevated monorail that was to ride on a single track and be stabilized by an overhead beam. It was to be cheaper and would occupy considerably less space than conventional elevated two-rail systems.

Hastings informed Dr. Wenner-Gren about this system, knowing that Wenner-Gren was always interested in new technical ideas. Dr. Wenner-Gren was indeed interested and made funds available for the development of Roscher's concept.

In 1951 Hastings tried unsuccessfully to locate Roscher in postwar Germany and had to discover that Roscher was counted as a missing person and presumed to have died during World War II. Help came from the American Engineering and Transportation Corps of the occupation forces that had noticed in the archives of the former German Railway that two of its engineers had also already done monorail research. Hastings arranged a meeting with these two engineers - Dr. Ing. Josef Hinsken and Dipl. Ing. Georg Holzer - and showed them what had already been designed by a group of technicians he had assembled in California.

The two Germans at once questioned the financial feasibility of Hastings' ideas and indicated that they had better plans. Hastings contacted Dr. Wenner-Gren and he persuaded the two engineers with generous offers to finance further research and the establishment of the "Verkehrsbahn-Studiengesellschaft" ("Transit Railway Study Group") in Cologne-Fuehlingen.

In deference to Dr. Wenner-Gren's initiative and generosity the planned monorail system was given the name ALWEG, derived from the initials of Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, who henceforth also sometimes became known as the system's inventor.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation

( New York )

The Wenner-Gren Institute

( Science Faculty Stockholm University )

Wenner-Gren Center

( Stockholm )



For a complete history of the Alweg Monorail Company (including a history of monorails in general) in Germany and the USA (and of course about Hitachi-Alweg) see the richly illustrated German book ALWEG-BAHN by Reinhard Krischer (the author of this ALWEG ARCHIVES website). The book also describes and illustrates Alweg's role in transportation history, showing that the Alweg concept is - despite experts' opinions to the contrary - still very much alive and retains, thanks to its timeless modernity, a very bright future ! As shown today by the numerous Hitachi-built monorails and the Las Vegas Monorail by Bombardier. 

Click bookcover for more details !

Text und Illustrationen (falls nicht anders vermerkt)
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von / by Reinhard Krischer
Reinhard Krischer
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