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SS Great Eastern Model at Montauk Lighthouse

The SS Great Eastern is back in Montauk after 151 years! In model form, that is, at the Montauk Lighthouse. The Great Eastern, the largest ship ever built at the time, was nearly 700 feet long, with both sail and steam power. It was the dream of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers of all time.

Brunel was an amazing person. His ideas revolutionized public transport and engineering. In between building bridges, tunnels, and dockyards, Brunel built the Great Western Railway in England. Then he had a bright idea: if he could run steam trains around the west of England, why couldn't he extend the railway to America via steamship?

So he shrugged and built the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship with an iron hull, forerunner of all modern ships. Because that's just how Brunel rolled. That was the SS Great Britain. In 1852, Brunel decided to build an even bigger ship, one that could carry enough coal to power its steam furnaces to India and Australia and back without refueling: the Great Eastern.

At the launch of the Great Eastern, the directors of the steamship company asked Brunel which name he preferred for the ship. Brunel replied "Call her Tom Thumb if you like." The picture shown here is Brunel next to the massive launch chains for the Great Eastern.

Unfortunately, various disasters meant that the Great Eastern was never a success. An explosion in a boiler killed five men on its maiden voyage, and the news probably killed Brunel, who'd suffered a stroke just after the ship's launch. Financial pressures meant that the ship was used for the transatlantic route rather than India and Australia, and the ship couldn't compete with the smaller, faster ships on that route. The Great Eastern collided with the Great Eastern Rock (what are the odds?*) about a mile off Montauk Point August 27, 1862. Also, the ship was also too large to use the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869. Finally, the Great Eastern was used to lay transatlantic telegraph cable.

The ship never made a profit. It was finally scrapped in 1889. It took workers 18 months to rip her apart.

The model on display at the Lighthouse Museum's shipwreck room was crafted in London sometime in the 1890s. Go see it—and think of Brunel, Victorian giant.
· The Great Eastern Returns to Montauk [Patch]

Montauk Lighthouse

2000 Montauk Highway, Montauk, NY 11954