Type: Sailing Frigate (44 guns)
Launched: October 21, 1797
At: Edmond Hartt Shipyard, Boston, Massachusetts
Most Recent Dry-docking: 2015-2017
Length: 305’ (overall); 207’ (billet-head to taffrail)
Beam: 43 feet, 6 inches
Draft: 22 feet, 6 inches (aft, today)
Displacement: 1,900 tons (today)
Armament: Twenty-four, 32-pound carronades; One 18-pound bow chaser; Thirty 24-pound long guns (1812 armament)
Charlestown Navy Yard
Boston, Massachusetts 02129-1797
Fax: (617) 242-5616
Latitude: 42.372456, Longitude: -71.056604
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USS Constitution was launched October 21, 1797, in Boston and first sailed on July 22, 1798, as one of the six frigates of the new United States Navy which was created to defend American commerce. Constitution is remembered for capturing 33 vessels in her active career and for her three victorious battles against British Navy warships in the War of 1812. Her first War of 1812 success over HMS Guerriere occurred on August 19th in the first frigate-to-frigate battle of the war. Constitution became “Old Ironsides” when an American sailor noticed that some of Guerriere’s shot failed to penetrate Constitution’s thick, oak hull. “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!”, the sailor purportedly exclaimed, and thus the nickname was born.
Constitution’s long career included sailing around-the-world, slave interdiction with the West Africa Slave Squadron, use as a U.S. Naval Academy training ship, and one of the vessels that carried the United States’ exhibits to the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. Despite such a storied career, there were several times where the ship was almost lost. In 1830, a rumor circulated in Boston that the U.S. Navy was to scrap Constitution. Although untrue, the perceived threat prompted Oliver Wendell Holmes to pen his poem “Old Iro” which rallied Bostonians. In 1905, Secretary of the Navy Charles Joseph Bonaparte suggested that the old ship was no longer useful and should be used for target practice in the Atlantic Ocean. Bonaparte was transferred to Attorney General and Constitution received her first 20th restoration.
USS Constitution became America’s “Ship of State” in October, 2009, is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and the world’s oldest sailing vessel that can still sail under her own power. Constitution sailed for the first time in 116 years on July 21, 1997 to commemorate her 200th anniversary and again on August 19, 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Constitution is manned by 75+ U.S. Navy personnel who provide public tours throughout the year.