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USS Constitution Museum

Boston, Massachusetts

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USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. Named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States of America, she is the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat. Launched in 1797, the USS Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794 and the third constructed.

Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be the young Navy's capital ships, and so Constitution and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than standard frigates of the period. Built in Boston, Massachusetts, at Edmund Hartt's shipyard, her first duties with the newly formed United States Navy were to provide protection for American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France and to defeat the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War.

The USS Constitution is most famous for her actions during the War of 1812 against Great Britain, 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 of "Old Ironsides" and public adoration that has repeatedly saved her from scrapping. She continued to actively serve the nation as flagship in the Mediterranean and African squadrons, and circled the world in the 1840s.

During the American Civil War she served as a training ship for the United States Naval Academy and carried artwork and industrial displays to the Paris Exposition of 1878. Retired from active service in 1881, she served as a receiving ship until designated a museum ship in 1907. In 1931 she started a three-year, 90-port tour of the nation, and in 1997 she finally sailed again under her own power for her 200th birthday.

The USS Constitution's stated mission today is to promote understanding of the Navy's role in war and peace through educational outreach, historic demonstration, and active participation in public events. As a fully commissioned US Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events while keeping the ship open to visitors year round and providing free tours. The officers and crew are all active-duty US Navy personnel and the assignment is considered special duty in the Navy. Traditionally, command of the vessel is assigned to a Navy Commander.

The Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston is responsible for planning and performing her maintenance, repair, and restoration, keeping her as close to her 1812 configuration as possible. The detachment estimates that approximately 10-15 percent of the timber in Constitution contains original material installed during her initial construction period in the years 1795-1797.

She is berthed at Pier 1 of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, at one end of Boston's Freedom Trail. She is open to the public year round and typically makes one "turnaround cruise" each year during which she is towed out into Boston Harbor to perform underway demonstrations, including gun drill, and then is returned to her dock, where she is berthed in the opposite direction to ensure that she weathers evenly. The "turnaround cruise" is open to the general public based on a "lottery draw" of interested persons each year.

In 2003 the special effects crew from the production of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World spent several days using Constitution as a computer model for the fictional French frigate Acheron, using stem-to-stern digital image scans of "Old Ironsides." Lieutenant Commander John Scivier of the Royal Navy, commanding officer of HMS Victory, paid a visit to Constitution in November 2007, touring the local facilities with Commander William A. Bullard III. They discussed arranging an exchange program between the two ships.

The USS Constitution emerged from a three-year repair period in November 2010. During this time the entire spar deck was stripped down to the support beams and the decking replaced to restore its original curvature, allowing water to drain overboard and not remain standing on deck areas. In addition to decking repairs, 50 hull planks and the main hatch were repaired or replaced. The restoration continued the focus toward keeping her 1812 appearance by replacing her upper sides so that she now resembles what she looked like after her triumph over HMS Guerriere, during which she gained her nickname "Old Ironsides".

The privately run USS Constitution Museum is nearby, located in a restored shipyard building at the foot of Pier 2.

With nearly 1,700 artifacts and over 7,000 rare books, manuscripts, and other archival material, the USS Constitution Museum houses the largest collection of USS Constitution-related objects assembled in one location. The collection focuses on the Ship's origins, her role in the early republic, her continuing story, and on those who have shaped her history to the present day. The collection contains a wide range of artifact types, spanning the more than 200-year history of USS Constitution.

The collections are also rich in the human dimension of the crew. The Museum owns unique personal mementos from the crew which shows the pride they felt in their ship. Through personal possessions such as journals, correspondence, and images, the Museum brings the stories of the people associated with the Ship to life.

We enjoyed our tour of the shipyard and Museum. We were not able to get on the Constitution because of the long lines due to heavy security measures since the ship is still considered an active military vessel.

USS Constitution Hours:

April 1 - September 30
Tuesday- Sunday 10am - 5:50pm
Tours every 30 minutes (5:30pm last tour)

October 1 - 31
Tuesday - Sunday 10am - 4pm
Tours every 30 minutes (3:30pm last tour)

November 1 - March 31
Thursday- Sunday 10am - 4pm
Tours every 30 minutes (3:30 last tour)

Museum Hours:

April 1 - October 31
Tuesday- Sunday 10am - 5:50pm

November 1 - March 31
Thursday- Sunday 10am - 5pm

USS Constitution
1 Constitution Rd
Charlestown Navy Yard
Charlestown, MA 02129

A Tour of the U.S.S. Constitution Museum