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The Honor of Restoring America’s Ship of State

By Sam Cox
Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

Maintaining USS Constitution’s “iron sides” secures a vital part of our nation’s great heritage. Since its inception, this ship has fought with and exuded honor, courage and commitment. She is a visible and viable symbol of the value of a well-constructed and well-maintained U.S. Navy, and we cannot permit that illumination of history to be diminished by failing to properly protect her.

"CONSTITUTION", watercolor and gouache painting attributed to Michele Felice Corne, c. 1803 – earliest known painting of USS Constitution. Courtesy Navy Art Collection.
“CONSTITUTION”, watercolor and gouache painting attributed to Michele Felice Corne, c. 1803 – earliest known painting of USS Constitution. Courtesy Navy Art Collection.

 

217 Years of serving her country.
Many of us know the story of USS Constitution. We know the battles she fought and won for our young country, we know how she came to earn her nickname “Old Iron Sides” and we know that she’s the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world. (If you don’t, let me be the first to introduce you to her history here.) She fought courageously with our Navy’s forefathers in the First Barbary Wars, The War of 1812 and trained Sailors for duty in the Civil War. Today, she serves the public in a much different way.

Chief Boatswain's Mate Allan Hawthorne, assigned to USS Constitution, teaches students at Youree Drive Middle School how to tie a knot while visiting for a presentation to teach students about Old Ironsides.
Chief Boatswain’s Mate Allan Hawthorne, assigned to USS Constitution, teaches students at Youree Drive Middle School how to tie a knot while visiting for a presentation to teach students about Old Ironsides.

 

 

 

108 Years of hosting the public.
In 1907, because of a public who so loved and respected her presence, USS Constitution was saved from the scrap yard and was put on display for all to see. She has served as such, opening her doors to the public in the Boston Harbor for 108 years. Her mission today is to ¬ preserve and promote U.S. Navy heritage by sharing the history of “Old Iron Sides” and the stories of the men and women who have faithfully served with distinction on the warship’s decks for 217 years. When a visitor steps foot on the deck of USS Constitution, he or she is making contact with the beginnings of the U.S. Navy, a navy that has kept the sea lanes free for more than 200 years. If ever you get the opportunity, you should walk her deck, explore the ship and meet her Sailors; the incredible young men and women who give her life day in and day out.

USS Constitution sits high and dry in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston National Historical Park, in Dry Dock #1 at the start of the 1992-1996, 4-year restoration.
USS Constitution sits high and dry in the Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston National Historical Park, in Dry Dock #1 at the start of the 1992-1996, 4-year restoration.

 

 

20 Years since her last restoration.
Just like any of the nearly 300 other commissioned warships in the Navy, Constitution needs to be properly maintained in order to fully carry out its vital mission. For “Old Iron Sides,” this means undergoing periodic restorations. Starting in June, visitors to our iconic “Ship of State” will get to see something remarkable – an active shipyard with craftspeople (blacksmiths, wood workers, etc.) working to make sure USS Constitution remains ship shape for future generations.

Today, when so many of our experiences are virtual, USS Constitution stands in Boston Harbor as a visual representation of the patriotism and dedication to the defense of the nation that began with our founding fathers. That same dedication and has been carried down through the centuries and generations, and this restoration period will not only maintain a ship, but the American spirit with which our Sailors serve around the world, around the clock to this day.

USS Constitution set sail in Boston Harbor during the ship's second and final chief petty officer heritage week underway demonstration in 2014. More than 150 chief petty officer selects and mentors assisted the crew of Constitution with setting the ship's three topsails during the underway to conclude a week of sail training aboard Old Ironsides
USS Constitution set sail in Boston Harbor during the ship’s second and final chief petty officer heritage week underway demonstration in 2014. More than 150 chief petty officer selects and mentors assisted the crew of Constitution with setting the ship’s three topsails during the underway to conclude a week of sail training aboard Old Ironsides