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Switzerland  : Smaller Lakes and Rivers

Apart from on the large lakes with large tourist numbers and often large local resident populations, excursion services continue on smaller less well-known lakes to this day but with smaller vessels. Although paddle steamers were the obvious form of vessel in the early days of service, their high costs made replacement by other steamers and latterly motor vessels essential. Of these lakes, Lake Lugano had the thriving tourist industry and maintained its ageing paddlers into the 1960s.

The last paddle steamers built for smaller lakes and rivers were both in 1913 : the half-saloon steamer Berna for the Bielersee and the flush-deck steamer Schaffhausen for  the Untersee and River Rhein. Both had a long life. Berna until 1964 and Schaffhausen until 1967. Due to the smaller scale of operations, these paddle steamers were also of an older design than their contemporaries on the major lakes and the two last survivors illustrated the two major design styles involved.

It was late in the history of paddle steamers when Lake Biel first operated its own steamers. Occasional visits had been paid by Lac de Neuchatel steamers which could access the lake via the Zihl canal.

The success of Stadt Biel led to the ordering of Berna with the Zurich-based builder Escher, Wyss. The 43.4 metre long ship was smaller than the builder's other examples for other larger Swiss lakes. The "half-saloon" design, identifiable by the aft saloon lowered to half a deck height above the main deck with an open deck above at half a deck height higher, was sufficient for service on the lake.  Second hand oscillating engines were obtained from the withdrawn Lake Geneva steamer Guillaume Tell.
Photo : Postcard view

Stadt Biel (1911-1932)
Berna (1913-1964)

River Aare  (Biel to Solothurn)

Seelander (1854-1862)
Stadt Solothurn (1854-1858)
Wengi (1857-1858)

Lago di Lugano

Paddle steamer operations out of the Swiss town of Lugano on Lake Lugano ended in 1962 and the extensive tourist tripper services became exclusively operated by motor vessels. The final three paddlers in service were of designs dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. Remarkably, two redundant paddle steamers from London (UK) which were slightly more modern, were procured and transported to Lugano but their life was relatively short. 

Above : Italia seen in a postcard view taken shortly after World War II was the last operational paddle steamer on Lake Lugano
Ticino (1848-1851)
(1871-1925, Helvetia from 1881)
(1910-1925 : Built in 1905 ex- Olaf of London County Council, UK)
(1911-1925 : Built in 1905 ex- Colechurch of London County Council, UK)

Untersee and River Rhein

Above : Flush-decked steamer Schaffhausen of 1913 was old-fashioned but long-lived, surviving until 1967. She had no deckhouses on the main deck
From a postcard view

St Gallen
(1865-1939, Neptun from 1871)


Linth-Escher (1837-1839)
(1850, sunk)

Rigi (1852-1882)
Stadt Zug (1864-1905)
Helvetia (1876-1887) 
Transferred to Lake Lucerne as Winkelried)

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Historical Database