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The Seattle Center Monorail turns 56: Photos from its first year

Watch the monorail run through 1962 Seattle

The monorail is pictured in an early color photograph, with heavy pink and green pigmentation.
The original Alweg monorail train.
Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 73117

The Seattle Center Monorail, constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair, opened a full month before the fair got started, taking its first passengers on March 24, 1962—although it wasn’t “christened” until almost a month later on April 19.

The Century 21 exposition was all about what the future was supposed to look like. And while the rest of 21st century Seattle doesn’t look like the future the 1960s toyed with, it was right in a self-fulfilling kind of way. The monorail is still running today. The Space Needle is still standing.

In some ways, these vintage photos of the monorail from the Seattle Municipal Archives are more interesting for the Seattle around it: A shorter city, captured on film. The sign for the Orpheum Theatre, which was turn down in 1967, is visible behind the monorail in one.

Passengers are visible in a muted film photo of the Seattle Monorail. The sign for the Orpheum Theater, which was turn down in 1967, is visible behind the monorail in this photo. Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 73122

When the monorail first opened, it was the only system of its kind, playing into the 21st century theme of the fair. Fare was a whopping $1 per trip, or more than $8 in today’s money.

Privately run at first, the monorail was profitable by the end of the fair, carrying 8 million guests in its first six months. The system was eventually sold to the city for $600,000 in 1965.

A monorail car leaves the World’s Fair, with a Ferris wheel visible in the background Seattle Municipal Archives, item Nos. 73132 and 73134
The monorail is pictured with, of course, the Space Needle.

In the past 55 years, a lot of change has happened to the monorail, but aside from standard fare changes, none of that change has really extended to the monorail itself. Multiple campaigns to expand the line have failed, keeping the line to its original, one-mile route. The system doesn’t take ORCA cards—or credit cards, for that matter.

A group boards the monorail in a vintage, black and white photo Seattle Municipal Archives, item Nos. 165724 and 165717
A group of people in business clothes on a monorail in a black and white photo

Still, the monorail is an unshakeable part of Seattle’s identity. It’s a time capsule of 1960s futurism, in contrast to the actual 21st century unfolding around it.

Shot from 5th avenue Downtown, the monorail is visible above the street with the Space Needle in the background. Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 73485