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USS Constitution Fact Sheet

Margherita M. Desy, Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command, Detachment Boston

January 2017

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.

General Characteristics

USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812, USS Constitution is interpreted today to the 1812 era.

Builder: Col. George Claghorne, Edmund Hartt’s Shipyard, Boston, Massachusetts

Launch Date: October 21, 1797

First Sail Date: July 22, 1798

Unit Cost: $302,719 (1797 dollars)

1812 Propulsion: 48 sails, over 44,000 square feet of sail, equal to over 1 acre of canvas

Length: length overall 305 feet (93 meters); 207 feet (63.1 meters), billet head to taffrail; 175 feet at waterline (53.3 meters)

Height: Main mast, from the spar (upper) deck to the top of the mast, is 172 feet (54.4 meters) today

Beam: 43.5 feet (13.3 meters)

1812 Draft: 24 feet aft, when fully loaded (7.3 meters)

Draft Today: 22.5 feet aft (6.9 meters)

Displacement: 1,900+ tons (today)

1812 Speed: 13+ knots (approx. 15 miles per hour, 24 km per hour)

1812 Armament:

—Spar Deck: 24, 32-pound carronades, 4–8 crew, range of fire approx. 400 yards; 1, 18-pound bow chaser

—Gun Deck: 30, 24-pound long guns, 7–14 crew, range of fire approx. 1,200 yards

1812 Boats: Used for transporting officers and crew between ship and shore for communication purposes, landing parties, transporting goods and services for the ship, and shore leave.

—36ft Launch (1)

—28ft whaleboat (2)

—27ft and 28ft cutters (4)

—Gig (1)

1812 Crew: Over 450 Sailors and Marines

Crew Today: 3 officers, 85+ enlisted U.S. Navy men and women

Homeport: Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston National Historical Park


Additional resources

Published: Fri Dec 08 14:49:51 EST 2017