A half-hull model (1835) can be viewed in the People Gallery
a 1:64 scale model (1966) can be viewed in the People Gallery Edit
The s.s. Great Western was the first steamship purpose built to make regular transatlantic crossings, and it ushered in the era of the transatlantic ocean liner. Critics argued that the Great Western was too big. However the ship's size was crucial to its success, since the fuel efficiency of larger ships made them suitable for transatlantic crossing.
When the directors of the Great Western Railway decided in 1835 to build a steamship to 'extend' their railway to New York, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Guppy a marine engineers and businessman, and Captain Claxton RN who was Quay Warden of Bristol Docks, were appointed to make a tour of British Ports to gather information.
The Great Western Steamship Company (1833 - 1846), formed by Brunel and Guppy, began work on the Great Western in 1836. This was to be Brunel's first steamship. It was built by William Patterson Shipbuilders in William Patterson's Wapping yard. It was completed in 1838. Brunel, Guppy, Claxton and Patterson formed the construction committee for the Great Western and the Great Britain after it.
Although a paddle steamer built of oak and using traditional methods, the Great Western was unusual for her size, being 236 ft long and 59.8 ft wide across the paddle boxes. She weighed 1320 tons, two and a half times the weight of any ship built before it in Bristol. She was launched at Bristol on 27 July 1837 and sailed to London for the installation of the engines which were built by Maudslay, Sons & Field.
Brunel was seriously injured when, On 31 March 1838, fire broke out in the engine room during the return to Bristol for the start of the Great Western's maiden voyage to New York. In the confusion caused by the fire, Brunel fell 20 feet and had to be put ashore at Canvey Island (Corlett, 1975).