Things You Didn’t Know About Boston’s Iconic Swan Boats – Hint, Knights and Princesses Were Involved

boston swan boats

Which images, if any, come to mind when picturing Boston? One of our nation’s oldest and most famous cities, Boston has a few key images associated with it. Perhaps the Red Sox come to mind, or a steaming bowl of clam chowder, Samuel Adams beer, or… A swan boat!

Boston Swan Boats – A Historic Tale

A staple of the Boston Public Garden lagoon, the Swan Boats seem to be as old as the city itself. How many people stop and ponder how they came to be? The elegant, iconic, and downright enjoyable swan boats are much more interesting than one might think.

A Tale of Knights, Princesses, and Swans

The fact that the boat is a Swan Boat is not arbitrary. Sure, swans are exquisite creatures, but the idea for the swan boat comes from an Opera based on a medieval German legend. Robert Paget, the creator of the swan boats, adored the Opera Lohengrin. Lohengrin is based on the medieval German legend in which Lohengrin, a knight of the Grail, crosses a river in a boat drawn by a swan to defend the innocence of his heroine, Princess Elsa.

It All Began in 1870

In the late 1800s, rowing a boat in the Boston Public Garden lagoon was a popular recreational activity. One Robert Paget, so inspired by the opera Lohengrin and the recent popularity of the bicycle, decided to combine those two themes to create the Swan Boat. He designed a two-pontoon boat featuring two wooden benches and a brass seat covering a paddle box. Paget chose the swan to conceal the paddle box. The first Swan Boat came to fruition in 1877.

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Tragedy, and a Woman Boss

boston swan boats


Sadly, the genius swan boat creator lived only one more year after the Swan Boats were launched. Paget was only 42 when he died, leaving his young wife Julia a widow with four children. Wanting to keep the family business alive, Julia took over management. At the time, it was not the status quo for a woman to run a business, and from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, Julia was required to gather signatures from local business owners to attest to her business management prowess.

From Two Benches to Five!

Julia’s youngest son to a particular fancy to the Swan Boat family business, and in 1914 began to work on designing larger vessels with five benches instead of just two. One of John’s original boats built in 1910 is still part of the Swan Boat fleet today!

You may also enjoy: Taking a Glance Back Into The Iconic Back Bay’s Elegant History

The Swan Boats Are an Official, Designated Landmark

Beginning in the 1870s and still going strong today, hundreds of thousands of people have ridden a swan boat around the pond and will continue to do so every April through September. The boats are memorable and iconic, and finally, in 2011 they became an official designated landmark.

Even Today, It’s Still a Family Business

Incredibly, the Swan Boats remain a family business to this day. Fourth generation family members (cousins) Lyn Paget and Phil Paget are preserving the tradition.

141 Years and Going Strong

boston swan boats


What isn’t there to love about the Swan Boats? When Swan Boat season arrives, it means Boston’s winter is over, spring has arrived, and summer is soon to follow. The Swan Boats signify summer vacations and urban nature. They serve as a link to our past and our future. They remain steadfast in a world that changes rapidly. For 141 years, the Swan Boats have graced the Public Garden with their elegance and have welcomed visitors into the Boston fold.

The Swan Boats run from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. The ride lasts 12-15 minutes, and tickets are $3.50 for adults, $2.00 for children 2-15, and free for kids under two years. For more information, visit here.

The Public Garden is located in Boston’s historic Back Bay, just steps from Copley Square. If you’re planning a trip to Boston, a Swan Boat ride is a must! Choose delightful accommodations in the heart of Copley Square in the Back Bay at Copley Square Hotel.

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