Originally called the Leviathan it was the brain child of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Though he probably planned for the ship to be solely steam powered worries of the time caused it to be equipped with six masts in addition to the two paddlewheels and a huge screw. The Great Eastern was the largest ship afloat and was not exceeded in length until 1899 by the Oceanic. It weighed 18,000 tons, was 700 feet long, and 85 feet wide.
The building and operation was a series of disasters. The ship was so heavy that it took four tries to get it launched. On the first shakedown sail in 1859 an explosion blew off the forward funnel. Soon afterward Brunel died of a stroke, many say it was contributed to by the stress of building the gigantic ship.
Though it was intended for the long Australia and Far East route with Britain with few stops it was put on a New York and South Hampton one after the opening of the Suez Canal. It never had enough paying passengers. In 1864 it was sold and converted to lay transatlantic cable. It did a good job at this task and from 1865-1874, the Great Eastern submerged 5 Atlantic lines and repaired 4 of them in mid-ocean.
In the end it was falling into disrepair and was sold for scrap in 1885. The breaking up took 18 months. One finally interesting note, a body was found between the ship’s double hulls. This macabre find was blamed by the superstitious for the Great Eastern’s bad luck over the years.