This page contains some of the most frequently asked questions about USS Constitution and the Museum’s collections. If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact us using the Reference Request form.
The best way to find out information about USS Constitution-related items is to contact the Curatorial staff by submitting a Reference Request.
The department handles requests on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to the volume of requests we receive daily, it may take up to eight weeks to receive a response.
Federal law prohibits the USS Constitution Museum—and all museums—from providing appraisal services to patrons who might be in possession of USS Constitution-related art and objects, or other historic materials. The American Society of Appraisers and Appraisers Association of America can provide a state-by-state list of accredited appraisers arranged by subject category.
American Society of Appraisers
11107 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 310
Reston, VA 20190
Phone: 800-272-8258 or 703-478-2228
Appraisers Association of America
212 West 35th Street
11th Floor South
New York, NY10001
Phone: 212-889-5404 x10
The Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library is open to researchers by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Researchers interested in using the Library and accessing the collections should contact the Archivist at least one week in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-426-1812 ext. 118.
The Museum is always adding USS Constitution-related artifacts and records to its collection through gifts, purchases, and bequests. Anyone interested in donating an item related to USS Constitution should contact the Museum’s Curatorial Department at email@example.com or 617-426-1812 ext. 147.
Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston, the unit charged with overseeing Constitution’s maintenance and repair, estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the ship’s fabric is composed of timber installed between 1795 and 1797. This “original” wood includes the ship’s keel, lower futtocks, and the deadwood at the stem and stern.
On July 2, 1931, USS Constitution and a crew of 81 sailors, officers, and Marines set off on a three-year, three-coast tour that included over 70 ports along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the United States. Find out which ports she visited here.
Visit our Scrapbooks page to learn more about the National Cruise and view a selection of digitized scrapbooks.
Originally rated as a 44-gun frigate, Constitution typically carried around 54 cannon. During the War of 1812, she mounted thirty 24-pdr long guns on the gundeck and twenty-four 32-pdr carronades on the spar deck, as well as a long 18-pdr “chase” gun forward. In 1814, Capt. Charles Stewart removed four carronades and replaced them with two 24-pdr Congreve “shifting gunades.” She also carried a 12-pdr brass carronade for the launch.
Today all of Constitution’s guns are replicas. All but two of the guns on board were cast in the 1920s and 30s. Two carronades aft on the spar deck were cast in 1983, based on a drawing of the weapons used during the War of 1812. Founder Henry Foxall cast the carronades in 1808, and these were on board when she was recommissioned in 1809. The Navy removed them after the Ship’s World Cruise in the 1840s. The incised “broad arrow” on some of the 24-pounders is a British mark, signifying that the gun was originally property of the (British) Crown. The other mark is called the “royal cipher:” GR for Georgius Rex (King George III). These replicas were cast about 1930, and the cipher/board arrow marks were based on bad information – Constitution’s guns did not carry these marks.
Between 1807 and 1808, Maryland’s Cecil Iron Works cast all of the 24-pounder guns used on board during the War of 1812. Most of them remained until the late 1840s. Constitution’s original (1797) battery was to have been supplied by Hope Furnace in Rhode Island. After running into some casting and boring problems, however, the contractor could not fill the contract by the time the ship was ready to sail in 1798. To complete her battery, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts loaned the Navy 16 18-pound long guns from Fort Independence. These guns might have had the broad arrow, but again, these guns were gone by the War of 1812.
Constitution’s 1812 long guns weighed 5554 pounds exclusive of the carriage and required a crew of 14 men to operate them. The carronades weighed 2222 lbs without the carriage and needed a crew of 4 to 8 men.
The USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild maintains an extensive library of books, model plans, photographs, and other resources to assist modelers with their projects. Contact the Guild by telephone at 617- 426-1812 ext. 130, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on-site at the Guild’s model shop located on the first floor of the USS Constitution Museum. For more information on the Guild, membership opportunities, or annual events, please visit their website.
The truth is we really don’t know exactly how Constitution looked when first she saw service. While the designer’s original draught still exists, there is much additional documentary evidence that makes it clear that the builders did not follow the plans with exactitude. The earliest known artist’s rendering was done about 1803 by Michel Felice Cornè; the earliest model dates from 1812. But if we cannot see her directly, we can construct a reasonably good image of her first appearance by extrapolation from the draught, from diary and journal entries, and from newspaper articles of the period. Read more >>
Constitution fought the British frigate Guerriere on August 19, 1812. According to American seaman Moses Smith, several British shot entered Constitution‘s hull. “One of the largest the enemy could command struck us, but the plank was so hard it fell out and sank in the waters. This was afterwards noticed, and the cry arose: ‘Huzza! Her sides are made of iron! See where the shot fell out!”
As early as 1813 both the press and the ship’s officers used the name “Old Ironsides” in print, and she has been called by that name ever since.
Constitution’s keel, or backbone, measures 150 feet long. The ship’s length at the waterline is 175 feet, she measures 207 feet from billet head to taffrail, and her sparred length is 305 feet from the tip of her flying jibboom to her spanker boom. The ship’s maximum width is 43 feet 6 inches. The mainmast is 210 feet from the bottom of her keel to her lightning rod. It’s 172 feet from the spar deck to the mainmast truck, the very top of the mainmast. The ship displaces in excess of 1900 tons and draws 22 feet 6 inches aft and, when fully loaded in the 1812-era, approximately 24 feet aft.