The steamer-icebreaker presently called Suur Tõll (after a mythological hero of Saaremaa Island) was ordered by Russia from the shipyard of Vulcan-Werke AG in Stettin, Germany, in 1912. The ship was launched in 1913 but was fully completed in 1914, carrying the name Czar Mikhail Fyodorovich (Царь Михаил Фёдорович) at the time. Tallinn became her home port. The ship was built to ensure navigation in the Gulf of Finland.
The ship was the most advanced icebreaker in the world at the time of her completion and is today the world’s largest steamer-icebreaker preserved in the original state. Over the hundred years, the icebreaker has belonged to Russia, Finland, the Soviet Union and Estonia and has had different names. She has carried the names Czar Mikhail Fyodorovich and Wäinämöinen once and the names Volynets and Suur Tõll twice, carrying the latter name again since 1988.
Smaller renovation works have been done as necessary. In 1950–1952, the ship was extensively renovated at the shipyards of Rauma-Repola in Finland, where her coal-fired boilers were replaced with liquid fuel boilers and the pumping systems and interior design were renovated.
From 1957 to the end of her service in the 1980ies, the ship was based in Kronstadt. In 1988, the Estonian Maritime Museum started the process of bringing the ship back to Tallinn to save her from being sold for scrap metal. She was successfully returned already in the autumn of the same year and, following a several-year renovation, was opened to visitors in 1995. Since 2004, Suur Tõll has been moored at Lennusadam port. She will be reopened with the restored officers’ mess, restored design of several other rooms and a historical display on 19 June 2014, on the 100th anniversary of her first arrival in Tallinn.