Wendella was founded in 1935, at the northeast corner of Navy Pier by Albert Borgstrom, a Swedish immigrant. Albert knew that people wanted more than just the small speedboat rides that were popular at the time. A carpenter by trade, he rebuilt a 65’ wooden yacht named Wendela (later changed to Wendella for pronunciation); added seating for about 100 passengers; included a narrator well versed in Chicago’s architecture and history; and charged 25 cents for a 30 minute boat ride. On its way to becoming a Chicago institution, Chicago’s original guided boat tour was born. In 1938, Wendella moved to its present location on Michigan Avenue, at the Wrigley Building and extended the tours to 90 minutes. The tour now included a trip up and down the Chicago River and a trip through the new Chicago River Lock onto Lake Michigan; this tour remains a Wendella staple today.
In 1962, Wendella started a rush hour commuter service between Michigan Avenue and the Northwestern and Union Train Stations, which provided a unique, inexpensive and fast way to get between work and the train. In 1999 the service was named the RiverBus, providing Chicago with an all day, seven-day a week water transportation system. The goal of the service is to get people out of their cars by providing a fast, convenient and economical way to get around downtown Chicago.
In 2001, the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) recommended the RiverBus for inclusion in the Federal Governments Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ). A program aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality in urban areas. CATS determined that the RiverBus provides a measurable benefit in reduction of auto emissions and auto congestion within the crowded downtown area. Wendella was awarded federal funding for construction of a new vessel to expand the scope and frequency of the service. The vessel was completed and placed into service in April 2002. In 2007 the service was rebranded and expanded into The Chicago WaterTaxi with a new stop in Chinatown.
In 2003, Wendella entered into the Architecture Tour and Private Charter markets with the introduction of the Ouilmette, Chicago’s only ADA accessible two-deck vessel. It marks the first new Wendella tour in more than 40 years. As a full service company, Wendella now operates six vessels, providing private Special Event Charters, Chicago WaterTaxi passenger ferry service, the Combined Lake and River Tour, the Chicago River Architecture Tour, Wine Tasting Tour and the Chicago at Sunset Tour.
Each spring, hundreds of schools use a Wendella’s signature Combined Lake and River Tour or Chicago River Architecture Tour as a safe, exciting, educational way to introduce their students to Chicago and its waterways. All Wendella vessels are inspected and certified annually by the United State Coast Guard, and all Wendella Captains are licensed USCG operators. Reservations can be made throughout the year and special rates are available to school groups.
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