“Old Ironsides” entering the Dock after Repairs
USS Constitution had long been a favorite subject of American artists, but the earliest known photographic image of the ship dates to 1858. For much of the preceding 20 years, when photographers began capturing the world around them, the ship had been sailing in far-off places where no photographers could be found. In 1855, the ship returned to the United States and was laid up at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. In July 1857, navy yard workers began to outfit Constitution as a school ship for the U.S. Naval Academy.
It was in this location that Portsmouth-based photographer Albert Gregory captured the ship on May 27, 1858. Gregory excelled at making daguerreotypes and, by the middle of the 1850s, had begun to shoot his subjects using glass plate negatives, which allowed him to make multiple positive prints on salt paper. After capturing the image on a glass plate negative, Gregory then developed the negative into a positive print using light-sensitive paper treated with a weak solution of sodium chloride (salt) and then brushing one side with a strong solution of silver nitrate. This portrait is one of at least three photographs that Gregory captured that day.