(aka "Old Ironsides") the
oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world
Built at Edmund Hartt's
shipyard in Boston between 1794 and 1797, the Constitution
was designed by Joshua Humphreys, a
Philadelphia Quaker and innovative naval
architect. The hull is made of oak from
Massachusetts, Maine, and Georgia, and the masts
of white pine. She is armed with cannons cast in
Rhode Island, and fitted with copper fastenings
provided by Paul Revere.
With a length of 204 feet, it could carry
provisions for a crew of 475. The total cost of
her construction was $302,700.
The Constitution was
launched on October 21, 1797. It survived the
Barbary Wars (1803 and 1804) unscathed, and was
the only ship to have all her War of 1812
captains decorated by Congress.
In 1830, the Constitution
was condemned as unseaworthy and ordered
destroyed. Fortunately, American poet Oliver
Wendell Holmes wrote a poem in which he wrote: Oh,
better that her shattered hulk Should sink
beneath the wave ...,. This poem aroused
public sentiment, and the vessel was rebuilt and
restored to service in 1833. In 1855, it was put
out of commission at Portsmouth Navy Yard and
used as a training ship, but was again restored
and returned to service in 1877. In 1897, the Constitution
was finally drydocked and repaired, to be
preserved as a memorial.
In 1927, American
schoolchildren raised money to recondition the Constitution
for a tour of United States ports. In 1930
Congress appropriated $300,000 to complete the
work. On July 31, 1931, the Constitution
was re-commissioned into active service. After
sailing 22,000 miles, it returned to the Boston
Naval Shipyard, where it is still docked to this
day. Manned by a specially-picked and trained
crew, the Constitution makes regular
tours of United States ports every year.
History of the USS Constitution
1794 President George Washington signs "an act to provide a naval
armament." The act authorizes construction
of six frigates, including the Constitution,
and effectively creates the United States Navy.
21, 1797 The Constitution is
launched-christened by visiting Captain James
Sever using a bottle of Madeira.
1798 The ship sets out to sea for the
first time, under the command of Captain Samuel
The Constitution cruises in the West
Indies, protecting U.S. merchant shipping from
French privateers. She is not engaged in battle
with any warship, but does capture/recapture
several privateers and victims of privateers.
She is laid up in Boston.
Thomas Jefferson sends the Constitution
to the Mediterranean Sea as flagship of the third
Mediterranean squadron, under the command of
Commodore Edward Preble. Her mission is to
attempt to end attacks by Barbary pirates of U.S.
merchant shipping. The squadron mounts five
attacks against Tripoli.
1805 A peace treaty with Tripoli is
signed in the captain's cabin.
1805 A peace treaty with Tunis is signed
on board the ship.
Out of active service.
Partially overhauled in and around New York.
Overhauled at the Washington Navy Yard.
1812 Under the command of Captain Isaac
Hull, the Constitution defeats the
British ship HMS Guerrière in a
20-minute battle about 600 miles east of Nova
Scotia. It was during this battle that the ship
earned its nickname. A sailor aboard the Constitution
is said to have seen shot from the British guns
bouncing off the sturdy sides of the Constitution
and exclaim that the ship had sides of iron
29, 1812 Under the command of Commodore William Bainbridge, the Constitution defeats the HMS
Java in a 3-hour-plus battle about 30 miles
off the coast of Brazil.
1814 Under the command of Captain
Charles Stewart, the Constitution runs
the British blockade of Boston. She captures the HMS
Pictou and several small vessels during a
cruise to the Windward and Leeward Islands.
20, 1815 Captain Charles Stewart
skillfully outmaneuvers two British warships -- HMS
Cyane and HMS Levant -- in one epic
battle and manages to capture the Cyane,
about 180 miles from Madeira.
Laid up at the Boston Navy Yard.
Serves in the Mediterranean Squadron under the
command of Captain Jacob Jones and Commodore
Laid up at the Boston Navy Yard. Oliver Wendell
Holmes' poem saves the ship from destruction.
Enters drydock at the Boston Navy Yard.
Serves as flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron
under the command of Commodore Jesse D. Elliott.
Serves as flagship of the Pacific Squadron under
the command of Commodore Alexander Claxton.
The Constitution circumnavigates the
world, under the command of Captain John
While operating in the Mediterranean, the Constitution
is visited by Pope Pius IX at Gaeta, Italy; he
becomes the first Pontiff to "step"
onto U.S. territory.
Laid up in New York.
Sails as flagship of the African Squadron,
patroling the West African coast with orders to
intercept slave traders.
Laid up at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Navy
Yard for conversion into a training ship.
The Constitution begins a decade-long
stint as a "school ship" at the U.S.
Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
Taken to Newport, Rhode Island, to escape threats
against her safety upon the outbreak of the Civil
War. Serves as a training ship for the duration
of the war.
Moves back to Annapolis.
Undergoes restoration at the Philadelphia Navy
Serves as a training ship in the Philadelphia
The Constitution carries the American
exhibits for the Paris Exposition; her last
cruise in foreign waters.
Sails to various points between the West Indies
and Nova Scotia, as a training ship for naval
apprentices. This is her final role as an active
ship in the U.S. Navy.
Laid up in the Portsmouth Navy Yard, serving as a
receiving ship for new recruits.
21, 1897 Moved to the Boston Navy Yard.
Exhibited there until 1900.
14, 1900 Congress authorizes an
expenditure of $100,000 to restore the Constitution's
hull and rigging to their original condition.
A national, voluntary campaign for restoration
funds brings in almost $250,000 of contributions
($148,000 of which is donated by schoolchildren,
much of that in pennies).
1931 The Constitution leaves
Boston for a goodwill tour of ports on the New
Under the command of Commander Louis J. Gulliver,
the Constitution travels 22,000 miles,
visits 90 ports, and welcomes more than 4.6
1934 The Constitution returns
to Boston, where she remains docked today.
1997 The Constitution sails
under her own power, not under tow, for the first
time in 116 years.
The World Book Encyclopedia
Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International,
War of 1812
President George Washington
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