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Facts you may not know about ‘Old Ironsides’

Photo of Distinguished Professor William Fowler by the USS Constitution in Boston, Mass.

The USS Con­sti­tu­tion, the world’s oldest com­mis­sioned war­ship afloat, is under­going a two-​​year restora­tion that started last week. Launched in 1797 in Boston, “Old Iron­sides” is the ulti­mate achieve­ment of 18th-​​century tech­nology, says North­eastern Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of His­tory William Fowler, who is an expert in mar­itime his­tory and the his­tory of Boston.

Fowler shared these five inter­esting facts you may not know about the vessel:

The birth of the U.S. Navy

The USS Con­sti­tu­tion was one of the orig­inal three ves­sels built that launched the United States Navy. Built in Boston, the vessel took three years to com­plete and the $300,000 price tag was well above the $100,000 orig­i­nally appropriated.

A name fit for a president

Pres­i­dent George Wash­ington selected the name Con­sti­tu­tion for the frigate. He chose from a list of names sup­plied by Sec­re­tary of War Tim­othy Pick­ering. Other sug­ges­tions included Pres­i­dent, Con­gress, Defender, and Liberty.

Good as new

The last time the USS Con­sti­tu­tion under­went a restora­tion was in the 1990s. Fowler esti­mated that 10 to 15 per­cent of the vessel is still the orig­inal live oak used in the ini­tial con­struc­tion. Most of that is located along the keel because it has been sub­merged in salt water for hun­dreds of years and never exposed to the elements.

Return to Boston

In the late 1890s the USS Con­sti­tu­tion was docked in Portsmouth, New Hamp­shire, and served as a bar­racks ship. That is until Con­gressman John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the grand­fa­ther of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, decided it was time to bring it back home to Boston, where it has been ever since.

The pride of a city

Fowler noted the city of Boston should be very proud to call the USS Con­sti­tu­tion its own. “She is basi­cally the equiv­a­lent of a nuclear air­craft car­rier of the 18th cen­tury, the best of the best,” Fowler said. “Boston should be par­tic­u­larly proud because we built her and she’s still here.”

-By Joe O’Connell

Published On: June 15, 2015 | Tags: ,,
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