In many parts of the world, the ice breaker is an absolutely vital ship. An icebreaker literally does what it says on the tin. It breaks through ice, creating routes for ships that may otherwise be unable to traverse those treacherous waters.
Ice breakers have been around for far longer than you may think too. On this page, we want to answer some of the more burning questions people have related to the very first ice-breaking ship.
When Was The Ice Breaker Invented?
This is completely dependent on which historian you ask.
In theory, ice breakers have been around since the 1300s. They weren't anything like the sorts of icebreakers that we see today. However, there were ships regularly being used, particularly around Belgium, that would clear the ice out of inland waters.
By the 17th Century, ships with the ability to break through ice were being used throughout Europe to ensure all the inland waterways could be kept clear. Crucially, these ships were only ever used for inland waterways, which is why some people argue that they weren't true icebreakers. Sure, they could break through the ice, but nothing you would see in those European waterways was really that tough to break through.
The first modern icebreaker came in 1897. There were similar ships beforehand, but nothing that could tackle the sea and break through the ice in the arctic and antarctic. However, by 1897 there were, and modern icebreaking ships are extensions of this invention.
What Was The First Modern Ice Breaker?
The first modern ice breaker was called 'Yermak'. It was built for the Russian Navy, but it was designed and constructed in England.
The Yermak was the very first icebreaker designed for cutting through pack ice. The ship worked by riding over the ice and crushing anything beneath it. It pretty much functions in the same way that modern ice-breaking ships do.
This ship was pretty well-built too. While it was built in the 19th Century, it kept on going right on through to the 1960s. So, not only was it the oldest ice-breaking ship in the world, but it was the one that had the longest lifespan. Most modern ice breakers could only dream of lasting over 60 years on the water. Ice is pretty tough to break through, after all.
What Happened To The Yermak Ice Breaking Ship?
As mentioned before, the Yermak ice breaker was on the waters for a good 60+ years. It lived through World War I and World War II, not that any of the areas where it would have been operating would have been targeted that heavily during the wars.
By the 1960s, the ship was old. It was still powerful, but there were a lot of ice breakers being developed at the time, and there wasn't really any need for a steam-powered ice breaker on the oceans. So, it was scrapped. This was actually a pretty good fate for the Yermak. If you have read most of our articles on the history of shipping, you will notice that many of the earliest historical ships ended up sinking or something. At least the Yermak got to be turned into other ships.
When Was The Diesel Ice Breaker Invented?
The Yermak was a steam-powered icebreaker. Ships were primarily steam power at the time it was built. Powerful, but perhaps not powerful enough.
Other people would argue that the modern ice breaker didn't come around until the diesel ice breaker was invented.
The first diesel-electric ice breaker was invented by the Swedes in 1933. It went by the name Ymer, and it was the most powerful ice breaker in the world for a good 30 years, only to be displaced by another Swedish ship (and a Finnish one, those guys were really in competition).
If you look through the history of ice breakers, you will notice that almost all of them have been produced by countries that deal with a lot of ice. So, Canada, Sweden, Russia, and Finland. Pretty much all of the ice-breakers that you see traversing the oceans nowadays (and there aren't that many of them left) have been produced by one of these countries. In fact, almost everything that we see nowadays will be an ex-Soviet icebreaker, although Canada is planning on launching its own line of icebreakers over the next few years.
When Were Nuclear-Powered Icebreakers Invented?
The only country to produce nuclear-powered ice breakers is Russia. While other countries have planned to introduce their own nuclear-powered icebreakers, no country other than Russia has done so. We suppose this is because they can be rather expensive to produce.
The Arktika-class ice breaker is the only nuclear-powered icebreaker around. It was developed in 1971 and remained under production until 2007. At the time of writing, there are still 2 ships (of the total 6 built) that are traversing the icy waters of this planet, although it is likely that those ships will end up being decommissioned soon.
In addition to nuclear-powered ships, Russia also runs a fleet of nuclear-powered ice-breaking submarines. These ice breakers pretty much follow the same design as most ice-breaking ships out there. This means that they just crush up the ice, allowing the waters to remain clear for other ships to pass through them. They are vital for maintaining shipping routes.
While icebreaking ships have been around since the 1300s, the earliest ships weren't really designed for this. They just so happened to break through the ice on minor waterways, which never really got all that icy, to begin with. The modern icebreaker really started at the tail-end of the 1800s, with the better ice-breaking ships coming around in the 1930s.
Because ice-breakers don't really have a whole lot of use outside of some parts of the planet, the tech in the ice-breaking department hasn't improved all that much in comparison to other shipping tech. However, the ships are fascinating.