Two hundred and seventeen years ago today, March 27, 1794, the United States Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, the first ships of the United States Navy, the USS Constitution, the USS Chesapeake , the USS Constellation , the USS President, the USS United States, and the USS Congress. The ships were designed to be heavy frigates – longer and faster than the conventional frigates of their day, able to stand and fight against any ships their size and fast enough to evade larger ships of the line. Innovative structural design involving diagonal bracing allowed US shipbuilders to build longer and faster frigates than was previously thought practical. The ships more than held their own against the Royall Navy. The six frigates were also significantly over budget and delivered later than anticipated, a tradition proudly upheld in military contracting to this day.
The USS Constitution , nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” is still in service and is the is the world’s oldest floating commissioned naval vessel. (HMS Victory is older but has been in drydock since 1922.)
For those who wish to learn more, Ian Toll’s Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy was released in 2008. Publisher’s Weekly wrote of the book: “Toll provides perspective by seamlessly incorporating the era’s political and diplomatic history into his superlative single-volume narrative—a must-read for fans of naval history and the early American Republic.”