"Old Ironsides": The Unsinkable Ship

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The War of 1812

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Official Site of the Constitution
History of "Old Ironsides"
U.S.S. Constitution Museum

The U.S.S. Constitution was never defeated in battle. Despite its nickname, "Old Ironsides," it was a wooden ship. Yet its battle record is perfect. It stands as a glowing symbol of American naval might.

In 1794, the new United States was worried about the war between France and Great Britain. The Constitution, which had been ratified just three years before, provided for the introduction of a naval force. Congress passed a bill giving permission to build six navy ships. One of these was the U.S.S. Constitution.

It saw action early and often, as the U.S. struggled with the fleet ships of the Barbary Pirates. During the Siege of Tripoli, the Constitution led the way, bombarding the city and capturing enemy ships left and right.

Success also came during the War of 1812, in which the Constitution sunk a large number of ships belonging to the British navy, then supposed to be the best navy in the world.

In Boston, Captain Isaac Hull and his men so badly damaged the British ship Guerreire that Hull ordered it burned because it was no longer useful. It was during this battle that the American ship got its nickname, "Old Ironsides." A British seaman saw one of his cannon shots hit the wooden hull of the Constitution, bounce off, and fall into the sea. In amazement, the seaman said, "Hurrah, her sides are made of iron."

In the struggles against the Barbary Pirates and during the War of 1812, "Old Ironsides" captured 24 enemy vessels and never lost a battle.

Today, the Constitution is in drydock, a living symbol of America's naval success. The ship was scheduled to be destroyed in the years after the War of 1812, but a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes built up public sentiment for the old warship and encouraged Congress to act to protect the symbol of American might.

In 1844, the Constitution sailed around the world, logging 52,279 miles on the goodwill tour. Not long after, it was put in drydock in Boston.

Today, you can walk on the deck of "Old Ironsides." It is now a museum.

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Social Studies for Kids
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David White