Construction and Launch
The United State Congress authorized the purchase or construction of six naval warships in 1794. Construction of new ships was decided upon and each warship was constructed at a different location along the eastern seaboard. The frigates, designed by a Philadelphia-based shipwright named Joshua Humphreys, were built for strength and speed. Construction of the 44-gun frigate in Boston, under the direction of Naval Constructor George Claghorn, began in 1794 at Edmund Hartt’s shipyard in Boston’s North End.
The keel, made of four massive lengths of New Jersey white oak scarfed and bolted together, was the ship’s first structural piece to be assembled. As the ship carpenters began to raise the live oak frames, the new structure towered over the surrounding town. Constitution stood 38 ½ feet from the bottom of the keel to the top of the bulwarks. Added to the height of the blocks under the keel (probably another 2 feet), the ship’s frame was nearly double the height of the average two-story frame buildings that made up the bulk of Boston’s waterfront architecture. Over the next two years, gangs of shipwrights busily planked Constitution’s hull inside and out, fitted beams, installed internal diagonal riders, placed mast steps, and laid deck planking. By July 1797, workers began installing 4,000 sheets of British-made copper on the finished hull below the waterline, and on September 15, 1797, 480 men carried Constitution’s hempen anchor cable into Hartt’s Yard. The ship stood ready for launching.
On September 20, 1797, Claghorn prepared to launch the heavy ship from dry land into Boston Harbor. As crowds of Bostonians and dignitaries gathered in the shipyard, the heavy frigate inched forward, became stuck on the launching ways, and refused to budge. A second attempt made September 22 also failed, much to Claghorn’s chagrin. Shipyard workers labored to increase the angle of the ways and, at high tide on October 21, 1797, Constitution at last floated into the harbor.Read More