Of a titan, winds and power: Transnational development of the icebreaker, 1890-1954
Journal article, 2021

Icebreakers have traditionally been seen as symbols of technological nationalism. While ship science for open-water vessels developed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, understanding of how to cope with polar and subarctic ice conditions lagged behind. This led state organizations in charge of icebreaking services to minimize risks in the development of new vessels by encouraging transnational expert cooperation. This article argues that such interactions were critical to the evolution of the modern icebreaker. We examine the development of three icebreakers in different countries in successive decades, and the critical technologies with which they are associated: the Ymer from Sweden and diesel–electric propulsion (1933); the American ‘Wind’ class and power-hull proportion (1942–1946); and the Voima from Finland and twin bow propellers (1956). We reconstruct the flow of information to explain the rationale for transnational cooperation in maritime technology development. The concept of ‘technology carriers’ is deployed in the analysis to enhance understanding of the role of international cooperation in polar and winter seafaring.

technology carriers


technology transfer



Aaro Sahari

University of Helsinki

Saara Matala

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Science, Technology and Society

International Journal of Maritime History

0843-8714 (ISSN) 20527756 (eISSN)

Vol. 33 4 722-747

Subject Categories

Economic History




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