The USS Constitution is one of the oldest and most famous ships in the world. Nicknamed Old Ironsides in tribute to her history of victories in naval battles, the USS Constitution is the oldest still-floating commissioned naval war vessel in the world. Today, the crew of 60 participates in educational activities and special events, and visitors can take free tours of the ship year round. Located at Pier 1 of the Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution floats at one end of the Freedom Trail, not far from the Bunker Hill Monument and just across the Charles River from the Old North Church and TD Garden. Nearby, the USS Constitution Museum is housed in a restored shipyard building, offering exhibits, historical artifacts, and interpretation, as well as special events.
The USS Constitution was named after the then-new US Constitution by George Washington. It was first launched in 1797 and is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate, built to be more solid and heavily armed than standard frigates of that time period. The ship was built in the Boston shipyard, and throughout her long life protected American interests both for US merchants throughout the world, defended the US in the undeclared war against the French at the end of the eighteenth century, defeated pirates, and defeated five British warships during the War of 1812, which earned her the nickname Old Ironsides. The USS Constitution carries 44 guns and is built of a variety of woods, and her copper bolts and breasthooks were reputedly furnished by Paul Revere.
The most famous battle engaged in by the USS Constitution and her crew took place during the War of 1812. On August 19, 1812, the HMS Guerriere was sighted by the crew of the USS Constitution. The Constitution's captain, Isaac Hull, ordered the crew to hold their fire until the ships were only 25 yards apart, when the Constitution opened fire with a double-loaded broadside. During the battle, the ships collided and rotated together while firing at each other. Finally at one point, the Guerriere's bowsprit became tangled in the Constitution's rigging and collapsed, taking the main mast down with it. The Guerriere was rendered useless and was burned by the crew of the Constitution. The name Old Ironsides was reputedly attached to the Constitution after this battle, because the British gunshots seemed to rebound harmlessly off the Constitution's copper-sheathed hull.
After a long and useful life, the US Navy intended to scrap the USS Constitution after it was found that her repairs would cost more than $157,000. However, public outcry fueled by Oliver Wendell Holmes' poem "Old Ironsides" led to the Constitution being repaired and reconstructed, with busts of her famous captains added to its sides. She then served for many more years and even sailed around the world, completing that trip in 1846. Later, the USS Constitution served as a trailing ship until after the Civil War. She was finally decommissioned in 1881. Throughout the next century, the ship underwent numerous restorations and was used as a museum ship. Finally, in 1997, 200 years after the USS Constitution first set sail, the ship sailed again for the first time in 116 years, delivering a 21-gun salute to the nation in honor of her bicentennial.
The privately-run USS Constitution Museum opened in 1976 and is situated across from Old Ironsides in the Charlestown Navy Yard at Pier 2. It is open from April to October, and free tours of the ship are also available every half-hour. The USS Constitution Museum also houses a large collection of artifacts related to the ship and her history. Admission is by donation.