Though the Gage Marine name dates only to 1958, the earliest iteration of the company that operates the Lake Geneva Boat Tours – including the famous mailboat and its jumpers – was actually founded in 1873 and is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
In addition to the cruise line, Gage Marine Corporation operates Gage Marine Boat Sales and Service, Gage Pier Service, PIER 290 Restaurant, Lake Life Catering and the Lake Life Store.
In celebration of the milestone birthday, Gage is donating $150,000 to Walworth County nonprofits via 15 $10,000 grants. Interested organizations can apply at gagemarine.com/150-years by a March 31.
Grant checks will be awarded at an event on May 18.
“Gage Marine has grown throughout the decades making it the strong family company that we are today. Our team is made up of many second and third-generation family members,” said Bill Gage, Jr., president and CEO of Gage Marine.
“While many changes have occurred throughout our long history, two things have remained constant – the crystal blue waters of Lake Geneva and the exceptional service from our outstanding team who understand that we do not sell goods and services, but help people create memories.”
The business was born in 1873 as the Lake Geneva Steamboat Line, which launched the first Lady of the Lake excursion vessel just two years after the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad reached the lake area.
In 1875, the Lucious Newberry, the largest and most luxurious boat on the lake with a capacity of more than 700, was launched. Four years later, John A. Wilson bought both vessels and started The Anchor Line, which would later become the Lake Geneva Cruise Line.
In 1917, the line bought out George Goodman’s livery business, which had a contract to deliver the mail (despite the fact that the road circumnavigating the lake was completed in 1910) and became Wisconsin Transportation.
That same year, land in WIlliams Bay was purchased for vessel storage and this led to the birth of a boat service business.
Russell Gage bought the company and renamed it in 1958. He launched the boat sales division, grew the marina trade, added the second Lady of the Lake – which was the first new excursion boat on Geneva Lake in nearly a half-century – and started Gage-Hacker, a business building boats designed by naval architect John Hacker.
Bill Gage, Sr. joined the company and during the 1960s and ‘70s the company rebuilt its neglected excursion fleet and, as railroads stopped serving the lake, shifted focus away from public transportation and toward tourism and private charters.
It also worked to grow its boat sales business and acquired Inland Marine Corporation and a local pier company.
Third generation family member Bill Gage, Jr. joined the company full-time in the early 2000s, and around the same time his father Bill Sr. died.
Later, Gage bought Summerset Marine and pier services and trebuilt the marina and Cruise Line Winter Harbor in Williams Bay. In 2012, Gage created PIER 290 Restaurant, which is the only restaurant situated directly on the lake.
Here are some great photos from across the company’s long history.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.