USS Constitution

Painting depicting two three masted frigates engaged in a battle. Guerriere is losing a mast under the gunfire of Constitution. Both ships are flying their respective national and naval ensigns on the tops of the masts.
Action between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere, 19 August 1812, by Michel Felice Corne

Courtesy U.S. Navy - Naval History and Heritage Command, 80-G-K-26254

 

Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!

USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Naval officers and crew still serve aboard her today. The USS Constitution is operated by the United States Navy, a partner to the National Parks of Boston. The Naval History and Heritage Command, Detachment Boston in Building 24 at the Charlestown Navy Yard is responsible for the maintenance, repair, and restoration of USS Constitution. Across the pier from Constitution in Building 22 is the USS Constitution Museum. The Museum serves as the memory and educational voice of USS Constitution and provides engaging and hands-on experiences for all visitors. Here you can explore how the ship was built, sailed, and preserved.

 
 
 
 

 
USS CONSTITUTION in Boston Harbor displaying full-dress signal flags draped from bow to stern over her three masts. Signal guns are firing in salute.

Boston's Most Storied Ship

Prior to independence, the thirteen American colonies enjoyed protection from pirates and foreign navies under the British Royal Navy. However, once the United States gained recognized independence, the young nation had to defend itself. In 1794, Congress authorized the construction of the first six warships. These warships became the new United States Navy. Each of the six were built at different seaports along the eastern coast. USS Constitution was built at Hartt's shipyard in the North End of Boston. Construction began in 1794 and Constitution launched on October 21, 1797. The ship sailed its first cruise the next year as the Quasi-War with France emerged. Later it served in engagements with pirates off the Barbary Coast in the Mediterranean.

The greatest glory for Constitution, however, came during the War of 1812. Constitution's crew defeated four British frigates during three separate engagements. The ship earned the nickname "Old Ironsides" because the cannons fired from enemy ships seemed as if they could not penetrate it's strong oak hull.

Before and after these voyages, Constitution had to undergo constant repairs and refits. Most of this work throughout the ship's service was completed here at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Established in 1800, the Yard was one of six navy yards commissioned to keep the Navy afloat. After over 200 years in the Navy, Constitution still calls Charlestown home and relies on the same facilities for maintenance and repair.

Today, the USS Constitution occasionally sails through Boston Harbor for special anniversaries and commemorations. The USS Constitution and its US Navy crew go underway with the assistance of tugboats as they sail down the coast to Castle Island. In the harbor near Castle Island, the Navy crew always fires a cannon salute before they turn around to return to the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Last updated: January 14, 2022

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