Note: On May 18, 2015, USS Constitution entered Dry Dock 1 at the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston National Historical Park, for a 26-month restoration. The ship was undocked on July 23, 2017.
The Importance of Restoring USS Constitution
USS Constitution is the only survivor of the United States Navy’s original six frigates. Her mission was to keep the sea lanes open for commerce, fight pirates, land Marines in trouble spots (...to the shores of Tripoli...), and prevent the slave trade. The U.S. Navy carries out similar missions today. As in the days of sailing warships, today’s Navy trains its officers and enlisted personnel to the highest standard, while incorporating the very best designs and materials into its ships. The U.S. Navy’s heritage is embodied in the successes and legacies of USS Constitution. The principles of sovereignty and sea control are just as relevant in today’s environment as they were 223 years ago, in 1794, when President George Washington signed the Naval Armament Act which authorized the building of Constitution.
The Evolution of USS Constitution’s Mission
Constitution began her career as a front line warship for the United States and when she was built she could outgun other frigates of her class that she could not outrun. In her nearly 60 years of active service, where she went to sea armed as a man of war she attained an enviable record of 33 captures. But as happens with warships, the effects of time wore upon her, and fortunately for her alone among her peers, she found enough secondary missions to keep her afloat until the importance of preserving her as one of the U.S. Navy’s first ships was realized.
Consequent to her retirement as an active warship, she spent a long period of time as a training ship for the U.S. Naval Academy where she famously evacuated the midshipmen and staff of the academy and relocated them to Newport, Rhode Island for the duration of the Civil War. After the war, Constitution returned to Annapolis where she was a stationary training ship for the academy. After a refit in Philadelphia in the 1870s, she sailed to France, carrying U.S. exhibits to the Paris Exposition. She last sailed in the autumn of 1881, when she carried apprentice training enlisted Sailors. Subsequently, she was sent to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where she was housed over with a large barn structure and turned into a receiving ship for new Navy recruits and those awaiting orders into the fleet.
In 1897, ahead of the 100th anniversary of her launching, she was brought back to Boston. In 1906, the first ever restoration occurred of Constitution bringing back a semblance of her look during her sailing battle career. It was in these early years of the 20th century that she was first open to the visiting public.
Constitution’s primary mission has become education and public outreach as established in public law by the 83rd, 93rd, and 111th Congresses. Public law 83-523, passed on July 23, 1954, authorized the Secretary of the Navy to restore Constitution “as far as may be practicable” back to her original condition, but not for active service. This law cemented the requirement of the Navy to maintain the ship and identified her homeport in Boston. Public Law 93-431, passed October 1, 1974, further shaped USS Constitution’s mission as the Navy left Boston with the closure of the Charlestown Navy Yard. The law established that thirty acres of the Charlestown Navy Yard be transferred.to the National Park Service and thereby created the partnership currently used to maintain Constitution’s berth. Now the ship was no longer on a Navy installation and was much more available for public outreach in a National Park. Public Law 111-84, passed October 28, 2009, further defined the ship’s role and designated Constitution as “America’s Ship of State” due to her extraordinary history and current use in that role already. As such, she welcomes more than 500,000 guests to cross her decks annually, while her crew interacts with over a million more members of the public through local outreach efforts in the New England area and participation in the Navy Office of Community Outreach’s Navy Week program across the Nation.
Today the Sailors of USS Constitution, in partnership with the Naval History and Heritage Command, Detachment Boston; USS Constitution Museum; and the National Park Service, work to preserve, protect, and promote USS Constitution for the people of the United States and the world as a living link to the Sailors and Marines of the past, present, and future.
Key Web links
USS Constitution and Facebook page
USS Constitution Museum website and Facebook page
Charlestown Navy Yard / Boston National Historical Park
Naval History and Heritage Command—USS Constitution
Naval History and Heritage Command Facebook page
Defense Imagery & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS)
Aerial HD video, USS Constitution, under her own power on August 19, 2012, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her victory over HMS Guerriere, which earned her nickname “Old Ironsides.”
B-Roll USS Constitution crew Boarding Pike and Gun Drill