Sven Hjalmar Ellström, 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 will be remembered as a loving brother, father and grandfather, known to his grandchildren as “Far Far.” Born in Färila, Sweden in 1929, he joined the Royal Swedish Airforce at age 17 in 1946 and served as a flight engineer until 1955. He was stationed in Korea for 18 months and it was during this time that he developed the engineering skills that would shape his future.
28 year old Sven and his wife Kerstin made their way to the USA in 1956, landing in California. In 1959 the couple set out for Alaska hoping to find work, but realized their travel budget would not take them that far and settled in Seattle.
While working at odd jobs, Sven was able to craft a homemade press built from scrap iron and a modified table saw. Ballard’s 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 blades.”
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 to manufacture the new flooring. A few years later Formica Corporation purchased STEL.
Of all the world-class products created by Ellstrom, perhaps the one that is most well-known by the general public is the Miss Elam Plus Unlimited Hydroplane (named for “Ellstrom Laminates”). The Ellstrom family entered the sport of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing in 1994 as sponsors of an experimental four-point Unlimited. In 1995 they built their own conventional turbine-powered Unlimited and scored the first of 20 victories in the 2000 season at the Tri-Cities. After that the Ellstrom team won among others the 2005 and 2007 National High Point championships the 2007 and 2009 Gold Cups and the 2010 World Championship in Qatar.
The main impetus for the Ellstrom family’s foray into racing was Sven’s children-Tom, Erick and Lisa – and their lifelong passion for water and boating. After their first sponsored boat did not perform well the Ellstrom family built their own.
While doing so, brothers Erick and Tom Ellstrom discovered they couldn’t find parts made with the level of precision they were looking for. Thus Five-Axis Industries was born. 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 and the company ships parts to customers all around the world.
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.”
Sven was preceded in death by his wife Kerstin in 2007 and is survived by a sister Margot Charlotta Ellström-Sollie in Linkoping, Sweden, sons Tom, Erick and wife Darcy and daughter Lisa and husband John Bauer as well as beloved grandchildren-Donne, Carynne, Christian, Krister, Sven, Hanna, Alexis and Michael.
Funeral service and interment will be on Wednesday June 1st at 11:00 am at Evergreen-Washelli Funeral Home, followed by a celebration of Sven’s life at 1:00 pm at the Seattle Golf Club – 210 NW 145th Street in Seattle.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you donate to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society - Washington/Alaska chapter.
In honor of Christen Heye and in memory of Sven Hjalmar Ellström.
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