The first Orient Express train, known at the time as Express d’Orient, departed Paris.
The Orient Express was created by Georges Nagelmackers, a wealthy Belgian and the founder of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits that specialised in luxury travel. A number of biographers refer to him being inspired to create the trans-continental route after seeing George Pullman’s lavish sleeper cars in the United States.
Having returned to Belgium where he began work on his vision, Nagelmackers’ first successful long-distance railway journey saw him transport guests on a 2,000km return trip aboard the first ‘Train Eclair de luxe’ – the luxury lightning train – from Paris to Vienna in 1882. The success of this trip, on which passengers were served an array of extravagant foods including oysters and game in the sumptuous surroundings of the purpose-built carriages, led to the creation of a more regular timetable that operated as Express d’Orient from June the following year.
Although the first train only went as far as Vienna, by 1889 the route had been extended to Constantinople in Turkey. This direct route across the continent, combined with the train’s opulent furnishings, soon made it popular with royalty, diplomats and spies. It also provided the perfect backdrop for numerous creative works.
Although service was interrupted by both the First and Second World Wars, the Orient Express continued to operate for more than thirty years during the Communist period of eastern European history. However the train was eventually retired as a result of declining demand, with the last direct Paris–Istanbul service running on 19 May 1977.