Sven Ellstrom, the 87 year old founder of Ellstrom Manufacturing in Ballard, passed away the evening of May 18 in Seattle.
In a long and successful life and career, the Swedish immigrant’s drive and ingenuity made a mark in industries as diverse as flooring, aerospace and boat racing.
Sven and his wife Kerstin arrived in California from Sweden in 1959. With few prospects the couple was on their way to Fairbanks where a new job awaited Sven. But when they got to Seattle, they realized the $854 they had wasn’t going to get them very far, so they stayed put and Sven worked odd jobs.
With the help of that $854, Sven was able to craft a homemade press built from scrap iron and a modified table saw. Ellstrom Manufacturing grew from those humble beginnings to serve as a worldwide supplier of panel components for the marine, aircraft, fixture, furniture and specialty products industries.
In 1967, Ellstrom was commissioned by the Boeing Company to create the largest wind tunnel blades in history measuring 36 feet in diameter , which were used in important testing necessary to build the 747. Since then, the company has specialized in making composite paneling for numerous applications, including interiors and exteriors of buildings and airplanes. Sven recalled, “A friend got me my first job at Boeing, which was to grind and regrout bathrooms. My second job with Boeing was to build the wind tunnel.”
Former Boeing executive and longtime friend Scott Carson called Sven a mentor and added, “He was a close personal friend and someone I could always call. He was a very kind man and our families were very close. He was also a very shrewd businessman who came from a different place and time and built a very successful enterprise – an enterprise that was always able to change with the times. I am among the many who will miss Sven very much.”
The first laminate flooring manufactured in the U.S. was made by a subsidiary of Ellstrom Manufacturing, STEL Flooring Inc. When Sven visited his sister in Sweden, who owned a hotel, he noticed that she had a new type of flooring, so he took a sample home to Seattle. In 1996 the Ellstrom family opened a 50,000-square foot plant in Algona, WA, to manufacture the new flooring. A few years later Formica Corporation purchased STEL
The family’s entry into the high speed sport of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing as a sponsor in 1994 led to the construction of their own boat, Miss Elam Plus, a year later and the start of the very successful Ellstrom Racing Team. Under the direction of crew chief Erick Ellstrom, the team has won 23 races since 2000, including the prestigious APBA Gold Cup and two National High Point Championships.
When Sven and Erick discovered they couldn’t find parts for their race boat made with the level of precision they were looking for, another division of Ellstrom Manufacturing was born. 5 Axis Industries was started to meet a specific need for high-precision machining. The company specializes in high-tolerance parts with complicated geometries machined from hard ferrous materials such as titanium and inconel. Again, the Boeing company is a major customer.
Sven took great pride in his family - sons Tom and Erick and daughter Lisa. The name of Ellstrom’s flooring company, STEL, was an acronym for Sven, Tom, Erick and Lisa. All three of Sven’s children have been active in the family businesses. Sven is also survived by his nine beloved grand children.
Plans are being made for a celebration of Sven Ellstrom's life. More information will follow.