The Navy launched a ship into the waters of Boston Harbor on Sunday evening, July 23, 2017. It was quite an occasion — with a cheering crowd and all — because the new ship on the water isn’t new at all. In fact, it’s the oldest commissioned warship in the world, the USS Constitution. First commissioned and setting sail in 1797, the ship that President George Washington had built and named is now fully restored at more than 200 years old.
Known as “Old Ironsides” for its numerous victories during the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom, the three-masted heavy frigate is a wooden warship with sides nearly two feet thick. It was one of six ships commissioned by George Washington with the Naval Armament Act of 1794, and its first captain was Samuel Nicholson, originally a captain in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War.
The USS Constitution’s current and 74th commanding officer, Commander Robert Gerosa said, “The ship has been the cornerstone of the Navy for a long time. To be a part of the ship is truly an honor.”
After two years of restoration work in a dry dock at Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution was relaunched late in the evening to cheers and applause as it was towed into Boston Harbor.
The USS Constitution has a rich history. It was one of the first ships of the newly created United States Navy, the successor of the Continental Navy. It was personally named by President George Washington and President John Adams, who attended its inaugural launch in 1797. The ship’s copper bolts and spikes were forged by none other than Paul Revere. It would win numerous battles during the War of 1812, later become a training vessel during the Civil War, and finally retire from active duty in 1855.
Old Ironsides, as it came to be known, actually has copper sheathing on it. The nickname was given not for having sides of iron, but for the ship’s strength in battle and its victories over British ships like the HMS Guerriere and the HMS Java.
During the two-year restoration of the ship, 2,200 copper sheets and 100 hull planks were replaced. White oak was used for the new planks and keel, keeping with its original construction. The ship is still operated by the U.S. Navy, along with the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston, but was retired from active duty in 1855 and has been stationed at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston since 1934. It undergoes repairs roughly every 20 years.
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Hundreds of spectators were on hand to see the USS Constitution leave the dock and enter the harbor Sunday night. As the ship was towed out of the dock, there was cheering and singing from those in attendance.
“All of the Detachment Boston employees take great pride in the work accomplished,” said Richard Moore, Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston director. “The ship restorers, riggers and blacksmith are a group of skilled craftspeople who have put their talents to great use during Constitution’s dry dock restoration. Tonight’s successful undocking is the culmination of the Detachment Boston’s hard work on Old Ironsides over the past 26 months.”
Old Ironsides sailed into the Navy Yard’s Pier 1, where it will continue to undergo restoration work through September. At that time, the historic ship will be opened to the public for tours in Boston Harbor.
Watch more about the USS Constitution’s return in the video below!
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.