In December 1897 on the initiative and with an active participation of Admiral Stepan Osipovich Makarov on the stocks of the British manufacturing company Armstrong Whitworth, Newcastle on the order of Russia was founded the first icebreaker in the world, which was able to break through a heavy ice up to 2 m thickness.
The idea of Admiral Makarov was supported by Siberian merchants who came up with a proposal to give the icebreaker the name “Yermak”. The commission which was responsible for development of the icebreaker brought together D.I. Mendeleev, engineers P.K. Yankovsky and R. I. Runeberg, F.F. Vrangel etc.
On October 17 (29) 1898 the hull of “Yermak” was solemnly commissioned. The building was quickly finished. After being tested “Yermak” was accepted from the factory and on February 21(March 5) 1899 she set sail.
The hull of “Yermak” reached 93 m in length and 21,6 m in width and was divided by eight watertight bulkheads into nine compartments. The ship had an inclined stem enabling her to break the ice with the weight of the hull. “Yermak” became the first icebreaker worldwide, which was able to sail in the condition of heavy ices.
It was already in April 1899 that the icebreaker released icebound steamships near Revel, and in summer 1899 Makarov sailed on “Yermak” to the Arctic, reaching 81° 28'N. During the voyage were undertaken hydrological and meteorological observations, as well as filming of ices. In 1901 the icebreaker made another distant Arctic voyage — to the coasts of Spitsbergen and the Novaya Zemlya (New Land).
In 1901 Makarov generalized the results of the voyages of “Yermak” in the book entitled “Yermak” in ices”. During the first 12 years of operation the icebreaker spent over 1000 days in the ice. When the World War I broke out “Yermak” was enlisted in the Baltic Fleet and continued steering of ships and vessels in the Gulf of Finland. In 1918 the icebreaker became famous for the rescue of Russian ships during a well-known ice voyage of the Baltic Fleet squadron from Helsingfors (Helsinki) to Kronstadt.
In 1920-30s “Yermak” had been transferring cargo in the Baltic, western sector of the Arctic and the White Sea. In February 1938 she took part in evacuation of polar explorers of the “North Pole-1” base. During the Great Patriotic War the icebreaker cut passage for ships in the Baltic. In June 1944 she was disarmed and returned to the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route.
In 1949 on the day of its 50th anniversary “Yermak” icebreaker was awarded the Order of Lenin. After that she served another 15 years and in 1964 was decommissioned and dismantled in Murmansk.
In 1974 the name “Yermak” was given to a new powerful seven-deck icebreaker.