Built in 1890 by Bergsunds Mekaniska Verkstads AB in Stockholm, Sweden, she was one of the first purpose-built icebreakers in the world. Murtaja remained in service for 68 years until she was decommissioned and broken up in 1958 .
The history of winter navigation in Finland dates back to the 17th century when mail was carried year-round between Turku, Finland and Grisslehamn, Sweden, over the Sea of Åland.
During the winter season, the postmen used ice boats, a ruggedsleigh-boats that was pushed over the ice until it gave in under the weight. Once in the water, the men began rocking the boat back and forth until it slowly began to break the ice and proceed towards open water. This mail route was often called the most dangerous in Europe.
Murtaja, the largest and most powerful European icebreaker at that time, was completed on 30 March, 1890. She left the shipyard on the following day and headed to Helsinki, where she was welcomed by a large cheering crowd on 2 April 1890. However, she lost a large number of cast iron propeller blades and while the replacement blades could be installed at sea by trimming the vessel so that the propeller shaft was near the water surface, the heavy task took several days.
She could break level ice up to 47 centimetres (19 in) thick in continuous motion as long as there was no snow, in which case even 25-centimetre (10 in) ice required backing and ramming. In this method the ship was reversed two to four ship lengths before ordering full ahead, after which the ship could break new channel up to six ship lengths, almost 150 metres (492 ft).