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USS Constitution Timeline

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  • “An Act to provide a Naval Armament,” signed by President George Washington, authorizes the purchase or construction of six frigates to create the United States Navy.

  • USS Constitution is built at Edmund Hartt's Shipyard in the North End of Boston, Massachusetts. Total construction cost was about $302,000.

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  • First attempt to launch into Boston Harbor fails.

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  • Second attempt to launch into Boston Harbor fails.

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  • Third attempt to launch into Boston Harbor succeeds.

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  • First cruise from Boston to the Caribbean.

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  • Quasi-War with France.

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  • In Boston. The ship was ordered to be repaired, but placed in ordinary before repairs were completed. “In ordinary” meant to be temporarily decommissioned and laid up until the ship was needed. Eventual repairs included replacing copper bottom sheathing with new copper supplied by Paul Revere’s rolling mill. Total repairs over two years cost about $118,000.

  • The First Barbary War was America's first foray into diplomatic negotiations as a new sovereign nation. Constitution arrived in Tripoli in 1803 and served as the Mediterranean Squadron flagship.

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  • Mediterranean Squadron flagship.

  • Repairs needed in New York upon return from the Mediterranean included new masts, boats, casks and other parts. A new billet head and trailboards were installed. New guns included thirty 24-pound long guns and twenty-four 32-pound carronades. The total cost for the refit was about $100,000.

  • Flagship of the “northern division of ships for the protection of the American coast.”

  • Northern Squadron under the command of Captain Isaac Hull.

  • Special service cruise to France, England, and Holland.

  • War of 1812

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  • Escape from five British warships off the coast of New Jersey.

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  • Battle with HMS Guerriere.

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  • Battle with HMS Java.

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  • Constitution suffered considerable damage during her engagements with HMS Guerriere and HMS Java, and spent much of 1813 under repair. New deck beams, waterways, decks, ceilings, and knees were added, as well as new copper sheathing, a considerable quantity of spars and rigging and another suit of sails. The work cost $46,600.

  • Escape from HMS Junon and HMS Tenedos into Marblehead Harbor.

  • Battle with HMS Cyane & HMS Levant.

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  • After the War of 1812, Constitution was celebrated for its victories, but not needed. Laid up in ordinary in Boston, the ship still required a number of repairs, including new sails and copper. The ships guns and gunner’s stores were transferred to USS Independence in 1815.

  • After years in ordinary, extensive repairs were needed to ready Constitution for Mediterranean service. Throughout the ship, hull planking, framing, decks and beams, as well as interior carpentry was repaired or replaced. The gun deck was rebuilt to restore the original height, which had been partially changed in 1813.

  • As the Mediterranean Squadron Flagship, Constitution patrolled the Mediterranean protecting vital trade routes and American diplomatic interests.

  • Amid Greece's struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire, Constitution's strategic presence as part of the Mediterranean Squadron prevented the eruption of a broader Mediterranean conflict.

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  • Constitution needed repairs after its long Mediterranean service. Though the frames were solid, lower deck planking, beams, and ceilings, along with upper deck fixtures were replaced. Copper was replaced and the ship was recaulked. In addition, the ship needed new masts and lower yards and sails. Estimated cost for repair: $125,000.

  • Upon learning of the Navy’s plans to dismantle Constitution, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a student at Harvard’s medical school, penned a poem in defense of the old warship. His widely published verses became a rallying cry, and the Navy quickly ordered the ship repaired “with as little delay as practicable.”

  • Constitution entered the newly completed dry dock in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard for a restoration. Throngs of Bostonians and dignitaries gathered as Commodore Isaac Hull gently glided the ship into the nation’s second dry dock. Materials removed from the ship during repairs were salvaged and made into souvenirs.

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  • By the time the Andrew Jackson figurehead was mounted on Constitution’s bow in 1833, the president had fallen out of favor with many New Englanders. In protest, a local captain named Samuel Worthington Dewey rowed out to the frigate one stormy night and sawed off the wooden head.

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  • Voyage to France with Minister to France Edward Livingston.

  • Constitution was Commodore Jesse Duncan Elliott's flagship during the Mediterranean Squadron. Ignoring regulations, Elliott indulged in personal shopping sprees during Mediterranean port stops. He loaded the ship with eclectic treasures, including Roman sarcophagi, Parthenon pieces, Italian fresco shavings, Arabian horses, a stuffed ibis, and a mummy.

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  • In ordinary in Norfolk, Virginia.

  • Pacific Squadron flagship.

  • Home Squadron

  • After a survey estimated it would cost $70,000 to repair the ship, Capt. John Percival declared he could get it back in service for $10,000 and was allowed to proceed. The ship was taken into drydock at Norfolk and recoppered and recaulked.

  • During the World Cruise, Constitution circled the globe, stopping in 25 countries on a mission that mixed trade, diplomacy, and displays of power. The voyage featured a diverse crew representing Sweden, China, Wales, Australia, and Peru, among others. Together they sailed over 52,000 miles in an ambitious, history-making adventure.

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  • Worn from its circumnavigation, Constitution needed another refit before it could be returned to active duty. Gun ports were enlarged to accommodate the new 8-inch Paixhans guns, and spar deck carronades were replaced by 32-pound long guns.

  • Mediterranean Squadron

  • Pope Pius IX and King Ferdinand II of Naples visit the ship at Gaeta, Italy.

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  • Captain John Gwinn dies in Palermo, Italy, becoming the first captain to die while in command of the ship.

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  • In ordinary and repair in New York. Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard erected a poop cabin to serve as flag officer quarters during the ship's anticipated role as the flagship for the African Squadron. The addition included a reception room, sleeping cabins, clerk’s office, a pantry, washroom, and head.

  • Fierce conflict over slavery held America on the brink of civil war. While a legal slave economy persisted domestically, the global slave trade had long been outlawed. Constitution joined the international fight against slavery as the Africa Squadron flagship, intercepting ships illegally transporting people from Africa to Cuba.

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  • Captures last prize, the slaveship H.N. Gambril

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  • In ordinary in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

  • No longer required as a frontline warship, Constitution was outfitted as a school ship for the Naval Academy. The ship was stripped to the frames and rebuilt. The poop cabin became recitation rooms, and a small house was erected over the main hatch. On the gun deck, long bulkheads divided the space into three study rooms light by windows in the gunports. The ship’s armament was reduced to sixteen 32-pound guns.

  • Constitution served as a floating classroom for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where hundreds of young naval cadets lived on board and honed their naval skills. Amid the turbulence of the American Civil War, the ship was evacuated to Newport, Rhode Island, from April 1861 to August 1865.

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  • In ordinary in Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Navy decided to end the ship’s service as a school ship, but no new role had yet been determined.

  • In PhiladelphisConstitution was to be repaired “for yard duty only” and put on display for the centennial in 1876.

  • Stationary training ship in Philadelphia Navy Yard.

  • The ship was loaded with American exhibits for transport to L'Exposition Universelle, an elaborate world’s fair held in Paris, France, in 1878.

  • As an underway training vessel for the Apprentice Training Squadron, Constitution sailed to the Caribbean, Central America, Nova Scotia, and along the East Coast of the United States. The program was designed to train qualified teens for a career in the Navy.

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  • In ordinary in New York

  • As steam technology flourished, aging wooden sailing ships like Constitution were relegated to duty as receiving ships. Constitution’s top deck was fitted with a two-story “barn” to create a floating barracks where sailors awaited orders at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Cast aside and nearly forgotten, the ship’s future looked bleak.

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  • Boston politicians seized a chance to revive the neglected warship and rallied for Constitution’s return to its native city. The ship arrived in Boston on September 21, 1897. Citywide jubilations marked the occasion, with parades, orations, musicals, and night-time illuminations that celebrated “Old Ironsides’” enduring legacy.

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  • 100th Anniversary

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  • Constitution returned to Boston amid fanfare, but there was no money for repairs. In 1905, news leaked that the Navy planned to scuttle the ship. Armenian immigrant Moses Gulesian offered to buy Constitution for $10,000. The Navy said no, so Gulesian offered $15,000. News of his bid launched a public campaign to save the ship. Under mounting pressure, Congress appropriated funds for repairs.

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  • Congress appropriated $100,000 to restore Constitution, “but not for active service.” The decision acknowledged the importance of preserving the ship as a source of inspiration. This marked the first time the Navy attempted to restore the ship to its War of 1812 configuration.

  • On exhibition in Boston. By 1924, Constitution was leaking badly. The Secretary of the Navy petitioned Congress to authorize a fundraising campaign to rouse patriotic interest and save the ship. Children donated pennies, adults purchased souvenirs crafted from salvaged materials, and over a million lithographs of Constitution by artist Gordon Grant were sold. School children across the United States raise over $154,000 as part of a “Pennies Campaign” to help restore “Old Ironsides”

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  • Lieutenant John A. Lord supervised Constitution’s restoration from 1927 to 1931. He called on shipwrights from his native state of Maine and gathered wood from around the country – live oak from Florida; white oak from Ohio, West Virginia, and Delaware; and Douglas fir from Washington state.

  • The ship embarked on a National Cruise in a show of gratitude to the many people who contributed to the Save “Old Ironsides” Campaign. Towed by the minesweeper USS Grebe from port to port between 1931 and 1934, Constitution visited over 70 cities on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts.

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  • On exhibition in Boston.

  • Along with USS Constellation, Constitution is named the symbolic flagship of the United States fleet during World War II.

  • 150th Anniversary

  • Routine maintenance and repairs in Boston.

  • Congressional Act, Public Law 83-523 designates Boston as ship's official home port.

  • The ship entered dry dock in Boston to have 390 sheets of copper replaced and her hull inspected. No further work was deemed necessary at that time.

  • Constitution was dry docked for another inspection and repair work. The Navy decided that, going forward, laminated timbers would be used when natural timbers of the proper dimensions could not be located. Similarly, the ship’s hemp rigging was replaced with polypropylene line because hemp rope in the proper diameters was no longer available.

  • A 1970 inspection discovered that decades of inadequate and ineffective maintenance had left the ship in need of major repairs. In the dry dock, workers replaced one-sixth of the hull planking and recoppered the hull. Masts, rigging, and gun carriages were replaced. A full-time group of shipwrights and riggers was established to repair and maintain the ship in the future. The total cost was $4.6 million.

  • White oak trees at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana are reserved for future restorations.

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  • Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison cuts the rope to officially open the USS Constitution Museum in Building 22 in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

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  • Constitution leads the Parade of Tall Ships, which included Queen Elizabeth II’s royal yacht, HMY Britannia.

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  • Commander Tyrone Martin welcomes aboard Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf. This is the only time a sitting British monarch has ever stepped foot on Constitution's decks.

  • On exhibition in Boston.

  • Rosemarie Lanam becomes the first female crewmember to serve on USS Constitution.

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  • In the dry dock for three years, Constitution underwent a major overhaul. The project included the reinstallation of diagonal riders, additional interior frames that had been removed in the 1870s. Their return strengthened the ship's ability to resist hogging in a seaway. The restoration cost about $12 million.

  • A copper spike from USS Constitution is flown on the United States Space Shuttle Atlantis during its first rendezvous and docking with the Russian Space Station Mir.

  • Lieutenant Commander Claire V. Bloom becomes the first female executive officer assigned to USS Constitution.

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  • After 116 years, Constitution was strong enough to sail again under its own power. In preparation, the crew underwent rigorous sail training under Commander Michael Beck’s leadership. On July 27, in a captivating spectacle, Constitution sailed from Boston Harbor to Marblehead, Massachusetts. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide witnessed the historic voyage.

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  • 200th Anniversary

  • International ships salute USS Constitution.

  • Restoration work continued to return the ship to its appearance in the War of 1812. Bulwarks alongside the main hatch were cut open and replaced with the U-shaped hammock cranes used in 1812. Other upper bulwarks that had been raised by about 20 inches in the 192os were lowered to the 1812 height. The changes removed approximately 20 tons of white oak and live oak, lightening the strain on the keel.

  • The National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010, signed by President Barack Obama, designates USS Constitution America’s Ship of State.

  • Bicentennial of the War of 1812.

  • Sails in Boston Harbor in commemoration of the War of 1812.

  • Dry docking and restoration in Boston includes recoppering the hull, rebuilding the quarter galleries, and replacing the trailboards.

  • Commander Billie June (BJ) Farrell makes history as Constitution's first female commanding officer.

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