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USS Constitution

The USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides"" is a wooden hulled,
three-masted frigate of the United States Navy. She is the oldest
commissioned ship in the world still
afloat. (HMS Victory is three decades                 Career
older, but is permanently drydocked.)
                                       Launched:       21 October 1797
Constitution was one of six frigates
authorized for construction by an act
of Congress in 1794. Joshua Humphreys  Decommissioned: never
designed them to be the Navy's capital
ships. Larger and more heavily armed   Fate:           Commissioned museum ship
than the standard run of frigate,
Constitution and her sisters were             General Characteristics
formidable opponents even for some     Displacement:   2,200 tons
ships of the line. For a time,
Constitution was assigned the hull     Length:         175 ft bp, 204 ft
classification symbol IX-21, but was                   (62 m) total
reclassified to "none" on 1 September  Beam:           43.5 ft (13.3 m)
1975.                                  Depth:          14.3 ft (in hold)
Built at Edmund Hart's shipyard in     Complement:     450 officers and men
Boston of resilient live oak,                          32 x 24-pounder long
Constitution's planks were up to seven                 guns, 20 32-pounder
inches thick. The ship's design was    Armament:       carronades, two
also unique for it's time because of a                 24-pounder bow
diagonal cross-bracing of the ship's                   chasers
skeleton that contributed considerably
to the ship's structural strength. Paul Revere forged the copper spikes and
bolts that held the planks in place and the copper sheathing that protected
the hull. Thus armed, she first put to sea 22 July 1798 and saw her first
service patrolling the southeast coast of the United States during the
Quasi-War with France.

In 1803 Constitution was designated flagship for the Mediterranean squadron
under Captain Edward Preble and went to serve against the Barbary States of
North Africa, which were demanding tribute from the United States in
exchange for allowing American merchant vessels access to Mediterranean
ports. Preble began an aggressive campaign against Tripoli, blockading ports
and bombarding fortifications. Finally Tripoli, Tunisia, and Algeria agreed
to a peace treaty.

Constitution patrolled the North African coast for two years after the war
ended, to enforce the terms of the treaty.

She returned to Boston in 1807 for two years of refitting. The ship was
recommissioned as flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron in 1809 under
Commodore John Rodgers.

By early 1812, relations with the United Kingdom had deteriorated and the
Navy began preparing for war, which was declared 20 June. Captain Isaac
Hull, who had been appointed Constitution's commanding officer in 1810, put
to sea 12 July, without orders, to prevent being blockaded in port. His
intention was to join the five ships of Rodgers' squadron.

Constitution sighted five ships off Egg Harbor, New Jersey, July 17. By the
following morning the lookouts had determined they were a British squadron
that had sighted Constitution and were giving chase. Finding themselves
becalmed, Hull and his seasoned crew put boats over the side to tow their
ship out of range. By using kedge anchors to draw the ship forward, and
wetting the sails down to take advantage of every breath of wind, Hull
slowly made headway against the pursuing British. After two days and nights
of toil in the relentless July heat, Constitution finally eluded her pursuers.

But one month later on August 19, she met with one of them again—the
frigate Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia. The British ship fired the
first shot of the legendary battle; 20 minutes later, Guerriere was a
dismasted hulk, so badly damaged that she was not worth towing to port. Hull
had used his heavier broadsides and his ship's superior sailing ability,
while the British, to their astonishment, saw that their shot seemed to
rebound harmlessly off Constitution's hull—giving her the nickname
"Old Ironsides."

Under the command of William Bainbridge, "Old Ironsides" met Java, another
British frigate, in December. Their three-hour engagement left Java unfit
for repair, so she was burned. Constitution's victories gave the American
people a tremendous boost to morale, and raised the United States to the
rank of a world-class naval power.

Despite having to spend many months in port, either under repair or because
of blockades, Constitution managed eight more captures, including a British
frigate and sloop sailing in company which she fought simultaneously, before
peace was declared in 1815. After six years of extensive repairs, she
returned to duty as flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron. She sailed back
to Boston in 1828.

An examination in 1830 found her unfit for sea, but the American public
expressed great indignation at the recommendation that she be scrapped,
especially after publication of Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Old Ironsides."
Congress passed an appropriation for reconstruction and in 1835 she was
placed back in commission. She served as flagship in the Mediterranean and
the South Pacific and made a 30-month voyage around the world beginning in
March 1844.

In the 1850s she patrolled the African coast in search of slavers, and
during the American Civil War served as a training ship for midshipmen.

After another period of rebuilding in 1871, she transported goods for the
Paris Exposition of 1877 and served once more as a training ship.
Decommissioned in 1882, she was used as a receiving ship at Portsmouth, New
Hampshire. She returned to Boston to celebrate her centennial in 1897.

In 1905, public sentiment saved her once more from scrapping; in 1925 she
was restored, through the donations of school children and patriotic groups.
Recommissioned 1 July 1931, she set out under tow for a tour of 90 port
cities along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts of the United States.

More than 4,600,000 people visited her during the three-year journey. Having
secured her position as an American icon, she returned to her home port of
Boston. In 1941, she was placed in permanent commission, and an act of
Congress in 1954 made the Secretary of the Navy responsible for her upkeep.
The USS Constitution is currently docked at the Old Navy Shipyard in the
Charlestown section of Boston. It is open to the public. For additional
information see the web site reference below.

On 21 July 1997, as part of her 200th birthday celebration, Constitution set
sail for the first time in over a century. She was towed from her usual
berth in Boston to Marblehead, then set six sails (jibs, topsails, and
driver), moved unassisted for an hour and rendered a 21-gun salute.

Timeline

October 21, 1797: USS Constitution launched and christened at Edmond Hartt's
Shipyard, Boston.

August 1798: Ordered into action in the Quasi-War with France.

18031806: Flagship, Mediterranean Squadron, Tripolitan War.

18121815: War with United Kingdom.

August 18, 1812: Defeats 49-gun British frigate Guerriere. Crew bestows her
with "Old Ironsides" nickname.

December 29, 1812: Captures British frigate Java and five smaller vessels.

1828-1830 Laid up at Boston and condemned by naval commissioners, she was
saved by a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

March 1844: Begins 30-month voyage around the world.

1931-1934: National cruise takes "Old Ironsides" to 90 American cities,
returns to her place of honor in Boston harbor.

March 1996-1997 Completes 44-month restoration.

General Characteristics

   * Builders: Col. George Claghorn, Edmond Harrt's Shipyard, Boston,
     Massachusetts.
   * Unit Cost: $302,718 (1797 dollars)
   * Power Plant: 42,710 square feet of sail on three masts
   * Length: 204 feet (62.16 meters) (billet head to taffrail); 175 feet at
     waterline (53.32 meters)
   * Beam: 43.5 feet (13.25 meters)
   * Mast height: foremast, 198 feet (60.33 meters); mainmast, 220 feet
     (67.03 meters); mizzenmast, 172.5 feet (52.56 meters)
   * Displacement: 2,200 tons
   * Speed: 13+ knots
   * Crew: 450 including 55 Marines and 30 boys
   * Armament: 32 24-pounder long guns; 20 32-pounder carronades; and, two
     24-pounder bow chasers
   * Boats: one 36-foot long boat; two 30-foot cutters, two 28-foot
     whaleboats; one 28-foot gig; one 22-foot jolly boat; and one 14-foot
     punt
   * Anchors: two main bowers (5300 lbs.); one sheet anchor (5400 lbs.); one
     stream anchor (1100 lbs.); and two kedge anchors (400 to 700 lbs)
   * Date Deployed: October 21, 1797

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The keel of a Lexington-class battle cruiser, to have been named USS
Constitution (CC-5), was laid at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in September
1920, but the class was cancelled in 1923 by the Washington Naval Treaty of
1922.

General Characteristics (1919 design)

   * Displacement: 43,500 tons
   * Length: 874 feet
   * Beam: 105.5 feet
   * Draft: 31 feet
   * Primary Armament: eight 16-inch/50 guns in four twin turrets
   * Secondary Armament: 16 six-inch/53 guns in single mounts (eight per
     side), four three-inch guns, eight 21-inch torpedo
   * Machinery, 180,000 shp General Electric geared turbines with electric
     drive, 4 screws
   * Speed, 35 Knots
   * Complement 1500 officers and men
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