The Swan Boats are the centerpiece and symbol of the Garden. Launched in 1877 by shipbuilder Robert Paget, the boats were an immediate and enduring attraction. A lover of opera, Paget had been inspired by the finale of Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, when the hero crosses a river in a boat drawn by a swan. He designed a new boat, with a foot-propelled paddle mechanism enclosed by the figure of a giant swan. They remain the only boats of their kind in the world.
Only a year after the Swan Boats began, Paget died at the age of forty-two, leaving his wife, Julia, and four children. The young widow assumed full management of the new enterprise, persevering despite the prejudice against women business owners. Her descendants, the fourth generation of Pagets, still operate the Swan Boats, continuing a cherished tradition.
Initially, the fleet was comprised of single-seaters that could carry eight. The present boats are replicas of the originals, but have five or six benches, carrying up to twenty passengers. The fleet numbers six, the oldest dating from 1918 and the newest from 1956.
Swan Boat Schedule
Seven days a week, from early April to late September, the Swan Boats glide in a serpentine course around the lagoon. The fifteen-minute ride, at about two miles an hour, goes around the rocky island made famous in Make Way for Ducklings, under the bridge, and back to dry land. Many famous people have made the quaint voyage, including child actress Shirley Temple, singer Judy Collins, and U.S. presidents Calvin Coolidge and John Kennedy.
For schedules, fares, and more information, check out the Swan Boats website: www.swanboats.com.