In 1834 two entrepreneurs started to operate steam boats on Lake Zurich. Little did they know that nearly two centuries later, passengers would still be queuing up to feel the wind in their hair as they jetted out onto the water aboard one of the lake’s boats.
The boom years for lake transport came in the 1960s, as the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich’s archives show, with three new vessels being commissioned. The ‘Helvetia’, launched in 1964, was the flagship of Lake Zurich and 50 years on still retains its status. Its capacity was 1,500 — today, due to changes to the laws for safety, it has dropped to 1,000.
In 1968, the Lake Zurich Navigation Companyexternal link was operating a fleet of 15 motor vessels and two paddle steamers. People flocked to get on board to make short visits to neighbouring villages or spend an evening dancing on the decks in style.
Growth and decline
Although the capacity of the ships has declined, locals and tourists still enjoy taking boat trips on Switzerland’s pristine lakes. In 2016, fares were reduced as they were brought in line with regular public transportation fees.
A voyage of discovery
Johann Jakob Lämmlin and Franz Carl Caspar commissioned their first vessel from English shipbuilder William Fairbairn in Manchester in 1834. The Minerva, named after the goddess, undertook a difficult crossing of the English Channel to mainland Europe where it travelled down the River Rhine to Switzerland. It was disassembled in Augst, canton Basel Country. From there the parts were transported by horse-drawn carriage to Zurich and reassembled there.
The Lake Zurich Navigation Companyexternal link has existed in its current form since 1957, when it was renamed from the Zurich Steamboat Company. That firm had been operating on Lake Zurich since 1890.
In our series #swisshistorypicsexternal link we travel back in time with Annemarie Schwarzenbach through her black and white photography and visit the four corners of the world.
Photos: Federal Institute of Technology Zurich’s archive (ETH, Zurich)