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Launched in Boston in 1797, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. The ship earned her nickname "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812 when she engaged the British frigate HMS Guerriere. During this historic battle, crew members exclaimed that the Guerriere's cannonballs appeared to bounce off their ship's hull. When one of the crew declared that it seemed as if the Constitution's sides were made of iron, the ship's nickname and its aura of invincibility was born. The durability of Constitution is attributed to a three-layer wooden sandwich of live oak and white oak from all across America. The ship’s copper fastenings were constructed by Paul Revere. The USS Constitution Museum offers the public a chance to step into history and examine the USS Constitution's storied past. Digital programs and interactive exhibits offer visitors the chance to see how the Ship fit into a historical context. The Museum is innovative and resolute in their efforts to create an enjoyable and educational environment for people of all ages. Each morning at 8AM, 50 visitors can witness a live ceremony including the firing of the ship's cannon.

  • C. Myron Clark, 1858-1925, oil painting of the USS Constitution escaping the British
  • Photo of the USS Constitution today
  • USS Constitution Museum
  • Inside the USS Constitution Museum

In 1794 the construction of six frigates (warships) was authorized under the Naval Armament Act. The USS Constitution was originally constructed in 1797 by Edmund Hartt, a master carpenter who owned a shipyard in Boston Harbor. The ship and her crew were engaged in their first battle just one year after the ship was completed. The Constitution saw action during trade conflicts with France and Britain during the early final years of the 18th century and the first decade of the 1800s. 

The Constitution engaged in three epic battles during the War of 1812 and defeated four British vessels: the HMS Guerriere, the HMS Java, the HMS Cyane and the HMS Levant. The ship earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” when a cannonball appeared to bounce off the side of the ship, causing a sailor to exclaim “Huzza! Her sides are made of iron!” 

After the War of 1812, the USS Constitution guarded American ports and accompanied American commercial vessels. From May 1844 to September 1846, the Constitution made international news by sailing around the globe under the leadership of Captain John “Mad Jack” Percival. During this extended mission aimed at demonstrating the growing strength of the US Navy, the Constitution traveled a total of 52,370.50 miles. After its long journey, the ship docked in Boston for repairs before sailing out to the Mediterranean Sea. Old Ironsides returned to New York three years later for more repairs. 

In 1853, the ship sailed across the Atlantic to serve as part of the African Squadron. Under the command of Commodore Isaac Mayo, the USS Constitution searched for slave traders operating in defiance of the United States' ban on international slave trade. During this mission, the Constitution pursued and captured several slave trading vessels, including the H.N. Gambrill.  

Several years later, Old Ironsides was refitted at Portsmouth, NH. The aging ship served as a training vessel for Union sailors in the American Civil War. Shortly after the war, naval leaders decided to preserve the historic vessel. From that time forward, the Constitution has been in a constant state of restoration and used as a floating museum of naval history.  

Information about the USS Constitution Museum 

The ship and the adjacent land-based museum preserves and shares the history of the USS Constitution. The museum's mission is to  function as the “memory and educational voice” for the ship and the men who served as crew members. The museum was established in 1972 as a private nonprofit institution. In addition to visiting the ship, the museum is open daily and offers exhibits just across the pier.

In the late twentieth century, the museum grew from giving tours of the ship to operating exhibits in two neighboring buildings. At the turn of the century, the USS Constitution Museum completed construction of its current exhibit space and research library. 

More Recently, the USS Constitution Museum opened the exhibit, All Hands On Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812, which incorporates the whole family and engages a variety of knowledge levels, ages, and styles of learning through interactive activities. Labeled as “groundbreaking,” this format is seen as the model for the future of family learning exhibits. This devotion to exemplary education has won many awards for the Museum. Some of its more current recognition include the 2003 National Award for Museum and Library Service, the 2010 Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Award, the 2011 Leadership in History Award of Merit, and the 2011 Muse Award for Online Presence.

The museum also offers educational programs for instructors as well as an online game entitled A Sailor’s Life for Me that offers the opportunity to learn about naval history from the perspective of the officers and men who served aboard the Constitution and other sailing vessels. 
I Am Old Ironsides. All Hands, Magazine of the U.S. Navy. Accessed February 09, 2017. 

Seizing A Slaver, 1853. Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed February 09, 2017.