The innovative SS Great Britain, launched in 1843, was the first iron-hulled, screw-propelled ship to cross any ocean and led mercantile history into British domination in the late nineteenth century. Standard practice of naval and merchant ship construction derived from this ship. The compartmented hull, unprecedented 1,500-horsepower engine with chain drive, and many other seminal features were the designs of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. New design features included a balanced rudder, an electric log, a double bottom, and water-tight bulkheads.
In the early 1830s, the merchants of Bristol, long dissatisfied with their communication with London, began to wonder if the new railroad technology might be a solution to their problem. The Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the Merchant Adventurers and other local industrial bodies formed a committee in 1833 to discuss the ambitious proposal of laying a railway to London. Matters progressed swiftly. Money was advanced and the search for a first-class engineer to guide the effort.