Old Ironsides, the popular nickname for the United States frigate Constitution, a vessel of the original U.S. Navy. Still a part of the Navy, the Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat. It is berthed in Boston and is on permanent exhibition.
The Constitution, built during 1794–97, was launched in 1797. It was rated a 44-gun ship, but it usually carried 50 guns or more, and was superior to most frigates of the period. The Constitution was flagship for the United States squadron in the Tripolitan War, 1803–06. In 1812 under Captain Isaac Hull, the frigate escaped from a British squadron by maneuver, then fought and destroyed the British frigate Guernère. As the Guerrière's cannonballs failed to damage the Constitution's oaken sides, the crew nicknamed their ship “Old Ironsides.” Late in 1812, under Captain William Bainbridge, Old Ironsides captured the Java. Blockaded in Boston through most of the war, the Constitution escaped in 1815 under Captain Charles Stewart and won a final victory over the British Cyane and Levant.
Decommissioned in 1828 and ordered sold, the frigate was saved by public outcry after publication in 1830 of Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem “Old Ironsides.” It was rebuilt, 1833–35, and returned to active service. After 1860 it was a school ship and training ship. Twice it was rescued from destruction, 1906 and 1925, partly by popular subscription, including schoolchildren's pennies. In 1940 the Constitution was commissioned flagship of the commandant, 1st Naval District.
For pictures of the Constitution,