5 Things You Didn't Know About Old Ironsides

On October 21, 1797, the USS Constitution, better known as Old Ironsides, was launched into Boston Harbor.  It is best known for its amazing performance during the War of 1812, but it has a longer history than that. Here are five things you didn't know about Old Ironsides...


It Took Three Attempts to Put the Boat in the Water # Photo credit: By (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Matthew R. Fairchild/Released) 140704-N-OG138-866 - https://bit.ly/2zZ67xY, Public Domain, https://bit.ly/2Pn8akw The Constitution, as with any ship, was built out of the water and had to be launched into the water. However, this ship was extremely heavy compared to its predecessors. So heavy, in fact, that launching it didn't work the first two times, and the shipyard warned those near the harbor that launching could create a huge wave (it didn't). Overall, the ship displaced 2,200 tons of water once it was out of dry dock.

Its Nickname Came From Its Thick Construction # Image credit: By Anton Otto Fischer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The Constitution was made of wood, as was standard in the 1700s, but its construction was unusually thick, with three oak layers and copper sheathing among the ship's features. This tough-for-its-times hull was so good that the cannonballs lobbed by the Guerriere during the War of 1812 bounced off the sides, giving the ship its nickname of Old Ironsides.


John F. Kennedy's Grandfather Advocated for the Ship's Preservation It shouldn't be that surprising that the presidential family known for its connections to Massachusetts would have connections to the Constitution, but John F. Kennedy's family was particularly close. His grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, was a Congressional representative for the district that held the Constitution in the late 1800s. Fitzgerald lobbied successfully for money to be set aside for the preservation of the ship (the money ended up not being used).

It's Still a Commissioned Warship Staffed by Active Military The Constitution is a National Historic Landmark, but it also still has its commission, meaning it's still technically an active warship (though it did officially retire in 1855). It likely won't see any action except a few harbor cruises now and then, but the commission does also mean that the ship is staffed by active Navy personnel and resides in a Navy dockyard.

It Is Seaworthy in the 21st Century Over the decades, various monies have been allocated for the Constitution's renovation and upkeep. Sometimes this money wasn't actually used, but other times it was extremely helpful—such as in 1927 when the ship was restored to be seaworthy. It spent a few years touring the coast until it was docked again in 1934; in 1997, however, it was once again restored to be seaworthy and set sail briefly. It sailed again in 2012 as part of a commemoration of victory against the Guerriere. It underwent more restoration in 2015, with the Department of Defense estimating that only 8 to 12 percent of the ship is actually original now.

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