Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 21, 1797

On this day in 1797, USS Constitution was launched in Boston.

Constitution, one of six frigates authorized by act of Congress, approved 27 March 1794, was designed by Joshua Humphreys, and built at Hartt's Shipyard, Boston, Mass., under the supervision of George Claghorn with Captain Samuel Nicholson as inspector. She was launched on 21 October 1797 and christened by Captain James Sever.

It took three attempts to set the immense ship, reinforced with heavy diagonal planking and copper sheathing, afloat. Shipyard officials warned townspeople to be prepared for a great wave when the boat was finally launched, but none appeared.

Her greatest moment came during the War of 1812, when in less than 20 minutes her guns turned a British warship into a hulk, not worth towing to port. When British cannonballs appeared to bounce off her thick wooden hull, a sailor exclaimed, "Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!" Ever since, people have referred to the ship by her affectionate nickname "Old Ironsides."

Berthed at the Charlestown Navy Yard, she is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

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