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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.

University Distinguished Professor of History William Fowler shares five facts about the ship currently undergoing restoration in Boston.

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

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