It is the USS Constitution – the oldest warship still in service in the mighty US Navy

USS Constitution was ordered in March 1794 for $302,718. Her keel was laid on November 1st, 1794, launched on October 21st, 1797, and officially went to sea on July 22nd, 1798. After the war of independence decades earlier, the United States Navy equipped itself with a ship capable of protecting its merchants and interests. The original plan included about six ships but was eventually cut to the USS United States, USS Constellation and USS Constitution.

The USS Constitution has a displacement of 2,200 tons, a length of 93m, a beam of 13.26m, and a draft of 6.4m, built entirely of wood. Her propulsion system is completely wind-powered with three masts, 60 – 67 – and 52.6m respectively. The ship can travel at a maximum speed of 13 knots, depending of course on the wind.

In terms of firepower, the USS Constitution was armed with 30 152mm cannons weighing 2.5 tons each, plus 20 96mm cannons. The original crew was 450 people, but now it is much less. Today the vessel is supported by only 55 personnel in a primarily ceremonial role.

Constitution is most noted for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated five British warships: HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant. The battle with Guerriere earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides” and public adoration that has repeatedly saved her from scrapping.

She continued to serve as flagship in the Mediterranean and African squadrons, and she circled the world in the 1840s. During the American Civil War, she served as a training ship for the United States Naval Academy. She carried American artwork and industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Constitution was retired from active service in 1881 and served as a receiving ship until being designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1934, she completed a three-year, 90-port tour of the nation. She sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997, and again in August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her victory over Guerriere.

Constitution’s stated mission today is to promote understanding of the Navy’s role in war and peace through educational outreach, historical demonstration, and active participation in public events as part of the Naval History & Heritage Command.


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