Happy 220th Birthday, Old Ironsides!

Designed by master shipwright Joshua Humphreys, the USS Constitution was launched October 21, 1797, from Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston (site of present-day Constitution Wharf/U.S. Coast Guard base). She first sailed on July 22, 1798, as one of the six frigates that began the new United States Navy that was created “in defense of commerce.” Constitution’s final construction cost was $302,718.84. She is remembered for capturing 33 vessels in 57 years of active service and for her three War of 1812 victories against the British Royal Navy. Constitution’s first War of 1812 battle occurred on August 19 against HMS Guerriere. The defeat of Guerriere was the first frigate-to-frigate victory of the U.S. Navy over the Royal Navy, then the largest navy in the world. 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.

USS Constitution became “America’s Ship of State” in October 2009, is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat, and is the oldest sailing vessel worldwide 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 and her battle with HMS Guerriere.

 – Naval History and Heritage Command


Courtesy Michael Haywood, all rights reserved

The ship! Never has she failed us! Never has her crew failed in showing their allegiance and belief in the country they served, or the honor they felt, in belonging to the ship that sheltered them, and on whose decks they fought, where so many gave their lives. To have commanded the Constitution is a signal honor; to have been one of her crew, in no matter how humble a capacity, is an equal one. Her name is an inspiration. Not only do her deeds belong to our Naval record, but she herself is possessed of a brave personality. In light weathers, in storm or hurricane, or amid the smoke of battle she responded with alacrity and obedience, and seemed ever eager to answer the will of her commander. May the citizens of this country, in gratitude, see that she, like her namesake and prototype, will never be forgotten. Her commanders in the future, as well as in the past, will see to it that here flag never shall be lowered. She was conceived in patriotism; gloriously has she shown her valor. Let her depart in glory if the fates so decree, but let her not sink and decay into oblivion.

Commodore William Bainbridge, 1831

As an active-duty warship, the USS Constitution is crewed by a select group of U.S. Navy Sailors who share her story with visitors from around the world and continue the U.S. Navy’s tradition of service through community outreach.


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