When steamboats started crossing Lake Maggiore in 1826, they were an instant success.
As one 19th-century chronicler explained, they were first introduced by a company whose shareholders soon split into two separate shipping lines: Sardo-Ticinese (backed by Swiss shareholders) and Lombarda (backed by Lombard ones).
The first steamboat to sail from Locarno – where it had been built the previous winter – was the “Verbano”, launched under Edoardo Church.
“The boat is beautifully made, and comfortable inside: it easily has room for over four hundred people, and a large quantity of cargo. During the summer, it runs across the lake twice a day, in less than six hours […] It fights against and overcomes feisty winds with only the slightest delay” (translated from G. Casalis, “Dizionario geografico storico-statistico-commerciale degli Stati di S. M. il Re di Sardegna”, Turin 1841).
Over the decades, Maggiore’s fleet grew quickly: in the early 1920s there were 18 paddle steamers, 6 screw steamers, and about ten motor vessels (motorboats and hydrofoil would come later).
Here is a gallery of posters that tell the story of the Belle Époque on Lake Maggiore.