History of Steamboats
In July 1835, the first iron steamship on the European continent, the Minerva, commenced service on lake Zürich. For the next 50 years or so, this steamship chugged away on lake Zürich. By the end of the 19th century, rail was increasingly gaining ground, and steamboat cruises on lake Zürich were under threat. In 1890, the "Zürich Steamboat Ltd." was founded in Zürich against the threat of suspension of operations. Thereafter, steamboat travel on lake Zürich started to increase once more. With the purchase of nine small propeller steamers, the so-called "Steam Swallows", short-distance transport around Zürich, in particular, was guaranteed.
In order to meet the passenger rush at the beginning of the last century, two large paddle steamers, sister boats “Stadt Zürich” (built 1909) and "Stadt Rapperswil" (built 1914) were ordered. The two steamboats are among the last ones produced by the Escher Wyss Company in Zürich and are now considered to be industrial monuments. Together with the paddle steamer Helvetia (built in 1875), these three boats formed the backbone of the Zürich fleet for decades.
During the world wars, due to the lack of coal, boats were also operated using wood and peat. In 1950/51, the two paddle steamers Stadt Zürich and Stadt Rapperswil were converted to run on heavy oil. Since 1985 (for the Stadt Rapperswil paddle steamer) and 1989 (for the Stadt Zürich paddle steamer), the boilers of the two vessels have been heated by means of diesel oil.
Thanks to the great efforts of "Pro paddle-wheel steamer campaign" (Aktion pro Raddampfer), the scrapping of the two paddle steamers was prevented. Both steamers have been repeatedly overhauled and reworked since then.
Today, the Stadt Zürich is the oldest boat still in use by the Lake Zürich Navigation Company (ZSG). In contrast to the other Swiss paddle steamers, the most striking features of this boat, and sister boat Stadt Rapperswil, are the short funnel, the spacious front open-air deck in 1st class and the dainty railings.