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.
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.
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.
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.
- Celebrate the Monorail’s 55th birthday on Friday [CS]
- Seattle Center Monorail at 55: 'It's always 1962 on the Monorail' [Seattle PI]
- A brief Seattle Monorail history [Seattle Center Monorail]
- Orpheum Theatre [HistoryLink]