The world's first true icebreaker

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The world's first true icebreaker

This tiny (<2cm diameter) medallion commemorates the building of the Yermak, considered to be the world's first true icebreaker, ie. with a reinforced hull designed to break through up to 2m of ice, launched on Tyneside in 1898. The Yermak was commissioned by Stepan Makarov, later to become a distinguished admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, and under his command reached the record latitude of 81.21 degrees north of Spitzbergen in 1899. The Yermak survived her creator by 60 years, serving in the Imperial and Soviet Navies and merchant marine, and as a model for later generations of icebreakers; she was finally scrapped in 1964. The recipient of this medallion was my grandfather David MacDonald, the then manager of Armstrong Whitworth's Low Walker shipyard, who must have worked closely with Makarov to carry out his design. An early symbol of globalisation, at a time when Tyneside among other industrial centres attracted engineers and innovators from all over the world to make and learn.

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