Georg Unger Vetlesen was born in the seaport city of Oslo, the son of a well-known Norwegian surgeon. From his early years, he loved the sea, and at the age of 11, he signed on as a crew member on a ship bound for Copenhagen.
Later, he studied in England, earning degrees in naval architecture and mechanical engineering from the Imperial Institute of London, and worked with a British shipbuilding firm. In 1913 the young Vetlesen went to Canada where he worked as a miner. In 1916 he came to the United States, which henceforth was his permanent home. He was in the shipbuilding business for many years.
In 1932 Vetlesen married Maude Monell, widow of Ambrose Monell, the former Chair of International Nickel who died unexpectedly in 1921. As the thirties came to an end, and with the threat of war growing, the Vetlesens became deeply involved in the establishment of a Canadian training site for the Norwegian resistance and the rebuilding of the Norwegian Air Force after Norway’s occupation by Germany in 1940. In early 1943, as a consequence of congressional legislation, Vetlesen was commissioned as a U.S. Navy Commander and sent to London to coordinate the OSS and Special Operations Resistance activities in Southern Norway and Denmark.
After the war, Mr. Vetlesen served as president and chairman of the United States company representing the Norwegian American Line, and he was a founder and chairman of the board of Scandinavian Airlines System, Inc., which began transatlantic operations in 1946. One of his main tasks during his later years was to help make a smooth-running organization of a company with three owners: Sweden, Denmark and Norway. His contributions to this end were remarkable.
G. Unger Vetlesen established the foundation which bears his name shortly before his death in 1955. In addition to the Vetlesen Prize, the foundation provides support in the Earth sciences for institutions of excellence.