In 1794, in response to the threat that piracy posed to American maritime trade, President George Washington signed the Naval Armament Act, which authorized the construction of six warships. One of those ships was the USS Constitution, which launched in 1797 and was in active service until 1855. The ship is now permanently docked at the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston, the city where it was built. It is the oldest commissioned naval ship in the world that remains afloat.
Construction of the USS Constitution
Joshua Humphreys, a shipbuilder from Philadelphia, designed the six warships, or frigates, constructed under the Naval Armament Act, including the 44-gun USS Constitution. Several types of wood, mainly live oak and white oak, were used to build the ship. Paul Revere fashioned the copper fastenings for the USS Constitution's hull.
The USS Constitution in Battle
The USS Constitution was involved in the Quasi War with France at the turn of the 19th century and later the Barbary Wars -- conflicts with Tripoli, Algiers and other North African states that sponsored piracy. She is best known for her achievements in the War of 1812, however, during which she won four battles against British warships. It is said that during a battle with the HMS Guerriere, cannon balls fired at the USS Constitution ricocheted off its surface, prompting a crew member to comment that the ship seemed to be made of iron. The story then earned the USS Constitution the nickname "Old Ironsides."
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