Histoires d’Or: Georges Nagelmackers, a Liégeois who loved horses, even without steam, who rode in gold

Histoires d’Or: Georges Nagelmackers, a Liégeois who loved horses, even without steam, who rode in gold
Histoires d’Or: Georges Nagelmackers, a Liégeois who loved horses, even without steam, who rode in gold
  • 3 (June 2, 1900) Georges Nagelmackers > Horse riding (“four in hand” harness)
  • June 24, 1845 – August 10, 1905. Born in Liège

Georges Nagelmackers is undoubtedly one of the most atypical Belgian Olympic champions. Long forgotten from the prize lists, because it was gleaned from the chaos of the overlapping of the Universal Expo and the 1900 Paris Olympics, its gold medal was recently unearthed by the IOC. But its story is worth its weight in gold…

In 1845, Georges Nagelmackers was “well born” in Liège into a rich family of bankers and industrialists. His father, Edmond, was the heir of the founder of the oldest bank in Belgium, created in 1747 by Pierre Nagelmackers. At 22, Georges obtained his engineering diploma. He is passionate about metallurgy… and his first cousin with whom he fell in love. To avoid scandal, his dad sent him to the United States. For almost a year, Georges Nagelmackers traveled across the USA, most often aboard Pullman trains, the comfort of which he appreciated. Back home, he launched into the steel industry but did not forget his American discovery. In 1870, he launched the first sleeping car project for long-distance connections across Europe. He had to fight, the obstacles were numerous, but two years later obtained his first victory: a contract to operate the international Paris – Vienna connection. The International Sleeping Car Company is back on track, thanks to the financial support of the family bank. The company will grow quickly, rail connections will multiply. In 1883, Georges Nagelmackers made another dream come true: the Train Express d’Orient, his “hotel on rail”, left Paris, heading to Constantinople, 3,000 km away, which he reached in thirteen days. A train which would be renamed the Orient Express in 1891… Georges Nagelmackers also built and operated luxury hotels along the railway lines. He is at the head of an empire…

The Liégeois then left the family castle of Angleur and moved to Paris then had a castle built in Villepreux, a few kilometers from Versailles, in which he settled. He doesn’t just like steam horses, and can therefore also indulge in his other passion there: horse riding.

Georges Nagelmackers: an extraordinary destiny

When the Universal Expo moved to Paris in 1900, Nagelmackers broke out of his daily routine. And he registered, with around twenty other aristocrats of the time, for the so-called “four in hand” driving competition, which takes place at Place de Breteuil, in the French capital. And which integrates the Olympic program, even if, on this point, sources differ and little information is available. To the point that this competition has long been “forgotten” in the rankings of the Games. This discipline, not originally recognized by the IOC, was finally recently validated, like others, on the recommendation of Olympic historian Bill Mallon, a former American golfer whose books on the Olympic Games refer to…

However, little is known about this “four in hand” driving competition from 1900. Except that a carriage had to be paraded pulled by four horses, individually controlled by a coachman. And a jury noted the best pace… Georges Nagelmackers entered two teams. And the Liégeois visibly ticked all the boxes, winning the votes with one of his two sixteen-legged quartets, ahead of two Frenchmen, Léon Thome and Baron Jean de Neuflize. York (a ten year old male) and Lady Beatrice (a seven year old mare) led the victorious team, ahead of Jack (ten year old male) and Tom (six year old male). Nagelackers sold its four golden horses very well at the end of the Paris Games. The “four in hand” event was never again contested at the Olympics.

After the death of Georges Nagelmackers, who died in 1905 at the age of 60 (he is buried in the old La Diguette cemetery in Angleur), the International Sleeping Wagon Company continued its expansion: it joined forces with many powerful partners and even became a famous travel agency which was for a long time the official agency of the international Olympic committee…

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