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USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”

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1794–1797, Joshua Humphreys. Boston Naval Shipyard.

The oldest commissioned warship still afloat in the world, the USS Constitution documents the history of the United States Navy. Edward Hartt's Boston shipyard built the Constitution to the designs of Philadelphia naval architect Joshua Humphreys at a cost of $302,700. Launched in 1797, the ship saw significant service in the War of 1812, defeating the HMS Guerriere and the HMS Java in separate encounters. When a report suggested that the boat should be scrapped, Oliver Wendell Holmes penned his poem “Old Ironsides” (1830) in her defense—“Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! / Long has it waved on high.” She circumnavigated the world in 1844–1851, before becoming a training vessel from 1860 to 1881. In 1907, Old Ironsides opened to the public as a historic landmark berthed at the Boston Naval Shipyard. Significant restorations occurred in 1927–1934, 1972–1975, and 1992–1995; the last returned the ship to its appearance at the time of the War of 1812 and occurred as the final overhaul in the Boston Naval Shipyard's Dry Dock No. 1, which she inaugurated in 1833–1834. The USS Constitution remains the centerpiece of the Boston National Historic Park at the Charlestown Naval Yard.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”", [Boston, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 212-212.

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