The USS Constitution – nicknamed "Old Ironsides" – is a wood-hulled, three-masted frigate of the U.S. Navy, which is the oldest commissioned ship in the world still afloat.
The Constitution, named after the Constitution of the United States of America, was one of the six frigates built as mandated by the Naval Act of 1794. It was designed by Joshua Humphreys and was hailed as one of the superior war ships of the early 19th century.
The Constitution put to sea in July 1798, and her first duty was to patrol the southeast coast of the United States during the Quasi-War with France.
In 1803, the ship was designated the flagship for the Mediterranean Squadron and was sent to serve against the Barbary States of North Africa. After discharging its duties successfully, the ship returned to Boston in 1807.
After an overhaul, the Constitution was recommissioned as flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron in 1809. Deteriorating relationships with the British during the War of 1812, had resulted in small-scale wars and frequent standoffs along the American coastline. In those days, the Constitution was pivotal in successfully warding off British threats along the U.S. coast.
In 1830, after being deemed unfit for future service, the Constitution was recommended to be scrapped. But a public outcry forced the authorities to drop the plan. Subsequently, the ship was repaired and recommissioned in 1835.
In 1844, the ship made a successful voyage around the world and served as a training ship for midshipmen during the American Civil War. The vessel was decommissioned once again in 1882.
One more time, it survived the scrap pile: In 1905, public sentiment again bailed the ship out of certain destruction. After repairs, it was recommissioned in 1925.
In 1941, the ship was placed under permanent commission, and an act of Congress in 1954 assigned the Secretary of the Navy responsibility for its maintenance.
The legend of the Constitution was so popular that it inspired such books as The Fortune of War and The Far Side of the World. The latter title was adapted to a movie of the same name.
From 1992 to '95, the Constitution was put through a 44-month refit. Still a fully commissioned ship of the U.S. Navy fleet, the Constitution currently fulfills the role of a "ship of state."
The vessel is open for public visits, and a crew of 55 modern-day sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events aimed at promoting the Navy and the naval history of the United States. The crew are all active-duty sailors.
The ship is docked at the Old Navy Shipyard in the Charlestown section of Boston. She is one of the sites along the Freedom Trail and is a part of Boston National Historic Park.