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7 Wonders of the Industrial World

SS Great Eastern
Industrial World Wonders
Laid down:May 1, 1854
Launched: January 31,1858
Fate: Boken up 1889-1890
Length: 692 feet (211 m)
Beam: 82 feet (25 m)
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h)
Capacity: 4,000
Power: 8,000 horsepower
Propulsion:Four steam engines for the paddles and an additional engine for the propeller.
Great Eastern at Heart's Content, July 1866 [1]


S.S. Great Eastern, a 22,500-ton (displacement) iron steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel was built on the Thames River, England. Intended for the passenger and cargo trade between England and Ceylon, she was by far the largest ship the World had yet seen. She was so far ahead of contemporary commercial requirements, and industrial capabilities, that her length (nearly 700 feet) and tonnage would remain unmatched for four more decades.

Though christened Leviathan during a initial launching attempt in early November 1857, she was thereafter always known as Great Eastern. Nearly three month's costly struggle to get her afloat, and more problems while she was completing, left her original company bankrupt. New owners decided to employ her on the route between Britain and North America. However, insufficient capitalization restricted outfitting to luxury accomodations, thus ignoring the decidedly non-luxurious, but very profitable immigrant trade. The ship financial difficulties continued, compounded by a series of accidents.

In September 1859 Great Eastern's first voyage was cut short by a boiler explosion. Her second company collapsed under the expense of repairs and a new firm took her on. Finally reaching New York in June 1860, for the next two months she was exhibited to the public and made voyages along the U.S. coast. Nearly a year passed before Great Eastern's next westbound trip in May 1861, by which time the American Civil War had begun. During June and July she transported troops to Quebec to reinforce Canada's defenses. In September Great Eastern began another trip to New York, but was disabled by a severe storm. In mid-1862 she made three voyages, but improving commercial prospects abruptly ceased when she struck an uncharted rock entering New York harbor, necessitating more expensive repairs. She did not resume service until mid-1863, making two more trips and bankrupting yet another company.

Sold at auction, Great Eastern was chartered for laying a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. The ship finally found her niche. In 1866 Great Eastern brought a cable to North America, establishing nearly instantaneous communication between the Old World and the New that has remained unbroken ever since. Following a unfruitful effort by French interests to put her back into passenger service in 1867, Great Eastern returned to cable work. Between 1869 and 1874 she strung six more cables from Europe to America, repaired two earlier ones, and laid another across the Indian Ocean.

Great Eastern was laid up at Milford Haven, Wales in 1874. In 1886 she steamed to Liverpool to become an exhibition ship. This prosaic, but profitable employment continued during visits to London and Scotland later in the year. Sold late in 1887, Great Eastern went back to Liverpool, where she was stripped and slowly broken up during 1888 and 1889.[2]



Isambard Kingdom Brunel , The famous Howlett photo of Brunel against the launching chains of the Great Eastern at Millwall in 1857.After the Great Exhibition of 1851, which had publicized America's wealth and natural resources, waves of people were eager to emigrate from Britain to America and Brunel realised the potential of a ship purpose-built to carry emigrants there.

On 25 March 1852, Brunel had made a sketch of a steamship in his diary and wrote beneath it: "Say 600 ft x 65 ft x 30 ft" (180 m x 20 m x 9.1 m). These measurements were six times larger than any ship afloat; such a large vessel would benefit from economies of scale and would be both fast and economical, requiring fewer crew than the equivalent tonnage made up of smaller ships. Brunel realised that the ship would need more than one propulsion system; since twin screws were still very much experimental, he settled on a combination of a single screw and paddle wheels, with auxiliary sail power. Using paddle wheels meant that the ship would be able to reach Calcutta, where the Hooghly River was too shallow for screws.

Brunel showed his idea to John Scott Russell, an experienced Naval Architect and ship builder who he had first met at the Great Exhibition. Scott Russell examined Brunel's plan and made his own calculations as to the ship's feasibility. He calculated that it would have a displacement of 20,000 tons and would require 850 horsepower (630 kW) to achieve 14 knots (26 km/h), but believed it was possible. At Scott Russell's suggestion, they approached the directors of the Eastern Steam Navigation Company.

Eastern Steam Navigation Company
The Eastern Company was formed in January 1851 with the plan of exploiting the increase in trade and emigration to America. To make this plan viable they needed a subsidy in the form of a mail contract from the British General Post Office, which they tendered for. However, in March 1852 the Government awarded the contracts to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, even though the Eastern Company's tender was lower. This left them in the position of having a company without a purpose.

Brunel's large ship promised to be able to compete with the fast clippers that currently dominated the route, as she would be able to carry sufficient coal for a non-stop passage and the company invited him to present his ideas to the board. He was unable to attend due to illness and Scott Russell took his place.

The Company then set up a committee to investigate the proposal, and they reported in favour and the scheme was adopted at a board meeting held in July 1852. Brunel was appointed Engineer to the project and he began to gather tenders to build the hull, paddle engines and screw engines. Brunel had a considerable stake in the company and when requested to appoint a resident engineer refused in no uncertain terms:

...I cannot act under any supervision, or form part of any system which recognises any other advisor than myself...if any doubt ever arises on these points I must cease to be responsible and cease to act.

He was just as firm in the terms for the final contract where he insisted that nothing was to be undertaken without his express consent, and that procedures and requirements for the construction were specifically laid down.


Sectional plan of Great EasternAlthough Brunel had estimated the cost of building the ship at £500,000, Scott Russell offered a very low tender of £377,200: £275,200 for the hull, £60,000 for the screw engines and boilers, and £42,000 for the paddle engines and boilers. Scott Russell even offered to reduce the tender to £258,000 if an order for a sister ship was placed at the same time. Brunel accepted Scott Russell's tender in May 1853, without questioning it; Scott Russell was a highly skilled shipbuilder and Brunel would accept an estimate from such an esteemed colleague without question.

In the spring of 1854 work could at last begin. The first problem to arise was where the ship was to be built. Scott Russell’s contract stipulated that it was to be built in a dock, but Russell quoted a price of £8-10,000 to build the necessary dock and so this part of the scheme was abandoned, partly due to the cost and also to the difficulty of finding a suitable site for the dock. The idea of a normal stern first launch was also rejected because of the great length of the vessel, also because to provide the right launch angle the bow of the ship would have to be raised 40 feet (12 m) in the air. Eventually it was decided to build the ship sideways to the river and use a mechanical slip designed by Brunel for the launch. Later this scheme, too, was dropped on the grounds of cost.

Having decided on a sideways launch, a suitable site had to be found, Scott Russell's Millwall, London, yard being too small. The adjacent yard belonging to David Napier was empty, available and suitable, so it was leased and a railway line constructed between the two yards for moving materials.

The Great Eastern's keel was laid down on 1 May 1854. The hull was an all-iron construction, a double hull of 19 mm (0.75 inch) wrought iron in 0.86 m (2 ft 10 in) plates with ribs every 1.8 m (6 ft). Internally the hull was divided by two 107 m (350 ft) long, 18 m (60 ft) high, longitudinal bulkheads and further transverse bulkheads dividing the ship into nineteen compartments. The Great Eastern was the first ship to incorporate the double-skinned hull, a feature which would not be seen again in a ship for 100 years, but which is now compulsory for reasons of safety.

She had sail, paddle and screw propulsion. The paddle-wheels were 17 m (56 ft) in diameter and the four-bladed screw-propeller was 7.3 m (24 ft) across. The power came from four steam engines for the paddles and an additional engine for the propeller. Total power was estimated at 6 MW (8,000 hp).

She also had six masts (said to be named after the days of a week - Monday being the fore mast and Saturday the spanker mast), providing space for 1,686 m2 (18,148 square feet) of sails (7 gaff and max. 9 (usually 4) square sails), rigged similar to a topsail schooner with a main gaff sail (fore-and-aft sail) on each mast, one "jib" on the fore mast and three square sails on masts no. 2 and no. 3 (Tuesday & Wednesday); for a time mast no. 4 was also fitted with three yards. In later years, some of the yards were removed. According to some sources (see External links) she would have carried 5,435 m² (58,502 sq ft). This amount of canvas is obviously too much for seven fore-and-aft sails and max. 9 square sails. This (larger) figure of sail area lies only a few square meters below that the famous Flying P-Liner Preussen carried - with her five full-rigged masts of 30 square sails and a lot of stay sails. Setting sails turned out to be unusable at the same time as the paddles and screw were under steam, because the hot exhaust from the five (later four) funnels would set them on fire. Her maximum speed was 24 km/h (13 knots).

Scott Russell bankruptcy

The SS Great Eastern's launch ramp at Millwall.At the beginning of February 1856 Brunel advised the Eastern Company that they should take possession of the ship to avoid it being seized by Scott Russell's creditors. This caused Scott Russell's bankers to refuse to honour his cheques and foreclose on his assets and on 4 February Scott Russell suspended all payments to his creditors and dismissed all his workmen a week later.

Russell's creditors met on 12 February and it was revealed that Russell had liabilities of £122,940 and assets of £100,353. It was decided that his existing contracts would be allowed to be completed and the business would be liquidated. He issued a statement to the Board of the Eastern Company in which he repudiated his contract and effectively handed the uncompleted ship back to them. When the situation was reviewed it was found that three quarters of the work on the hull had not been completed and that there was a deficit of 1200 tons between the amount of iron supplied and that used on the ship.

Brunel meanwhile wrote to John Yates and instructed him to negotiate with Scott Russell for the lease of his yard and equipment. Yates replied that Scott Russell had mortgaged the yard to his banker and that any negotiation would have to be with the bank, who after weeks of wrangling agreed to lease the yard and equipment until 12 August 1857.

The Eastern Company began the task of completing the ship. Work recommenced in May and took longer than expected to complete. Brunel reported in June 1857 that once the screw, screw shaft and sternpost had been installed the ship would be ready for launching. However, the launch ways and cradles would not be ready in time since the contract for their construction had only been placed in January 1857. Under pressure from all sides, the lease of the shipyard costing £1,000 a month, and against his better judgement, Brunel agreed to launch the ship on 3 November 1857 to catch the high tide.


Great Eastern before launch in 1858.Brunel had hoped to conduct the launch with a minimum of publicity but many thousands of spectators had heard of it and occupied vantage points all round the yard. He was also dismayed to discover that the Eastern Company's directors had sold 3,000 tickets for spectators to enter the shipyard.

As he was preparing for the launch some of the directors joined him on the rostrum with a list of names for the ship. On being asked which he preferred, Brunel replied "Call her Tom Thumb if you like". At 12:30 pm Henrietta (daughter of a major fundraiser for the ship, Henry Thomas Hope) christened the ship Leviathan much to everyone's surprise since she was commonly known as the Great Eastern; her name subsequently changed back to Great Eastern in July 1858.

The launch, however, failed, as the steam winches and manual capstans used to haul the ship towards the water were not up to the job. Brunel made another attempt on the 19th and again on the 28th, this time using hydraulic rams to move the ship, but these too proved inadequate. The ship was finally launched at 1:42pm on 31 January 1858, using more powerful hydraulic rams supplied by the then-new Tangye company of Birmingham, the association with such a famous project giving a useful fillip to the fledgling company.[4]

She was 211 meters (692 ft) long, 25 meters (83 ft) wide, with a draft of 6.1 m (20 ft) unloaded and 9.1 m (30 ft) fully laden, and displaced 32,000 tons fully loaded. In comparison, SS Persia, launched in 1856, was 119 m (390 ft) long with a 14 m (45 ft) beam.[3]


The SS Great Eastern was an iron sailing steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refueling.


May 15, 2009

The World Wonders .Com-visit 1,000 world wonders at www.theworldwonders.com


28 finalists-7 winners will be announced in 2011


1. Wikimedia Commons -SS Great Eastern-Public Domain-retrieved 7/22/2009
2. Navy.Mil-SS Great Eastern-Public Domain-retrieved 7/22/2009
3. Wikipedia  text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License


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