October 21st is a busy day in nautical history. In addition to being the anniversary of the Battle of Trafagar of 1805, it was also the day that the the USS Constitution was launched in 1797. A three-masted US Navy heavy frigate, she is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat. USS Constitution was the third of six original frigates authorized for construction by the Naval Act of 1794.
Because the US Navy could not afford to build ships of the line, the Constitution and her sister ships were designed to be larger, faster and more heavily armed than conventional frigates of their day. They were intended to be fast enough to run from larger ships and strong enough to fight ships near their own size. She was designed by Joshua Humphreys with an innovative system of diagonal framing allowing the ships to be longer and slimmer than other conventional frigates.
After serving in the Quasi-war against the French and the actions against Barbary pirates, USS Constitution earned fame in the War of 1812, defeating five British warships; HMS Guerriere, HMS Java, HMS Pictou, HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. In the battle with HMS Guerriere, she earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” after British round shot bounced off her oak planking.
The USS Constitution is currently afloat in the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston harbor.