Constitution, U.S. 44-gun frigate, nicknamed Old Ironsides. It is perhaps the most famous vessel in the history of the U.S. navy. Authorized by Congress in 1794, the ship was launched in 1797 and was commissioned and put to sea in 1798 in the undeclared naval war with the French. It participated in the Tripolitan War. In the War of 1812, serving as flagship for Isaac Hull, The Constitution won a battle with the British vessel Guerrière on Aug. 19, 1812, and under the command of William Bainbridge it defeated the Java on Dec. 29, 1812. Charles Stewart was commanding the Constitution when on Feb. 20, 1815, it overcame the Cyane and the Levant (though the Levant was later recaptured by the British). The Constitution was condemned (1830) as unseaworthy, but public sentiment, aroused by Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem
saved the ship from dismantling, and it was rebuilt in 1833. The ship was laid up at the Portsmouth navy yard in 1855 and was there used as a training ship. In 1877 it was rebuilt again, and the next year it crossed the Atlantic. In 1897 it was stored at the Boston navy yard, and in 1927–30, under authorization of Congress, it was restored by public subscription (1925–27). Another restoration was begun in 1992 and was completed in 1997. The Constitution is now maintained at the Boston navy yard.
See J. Barnes, Naval Actions of the War of 1812 (1896); I. N. Hollis, The Frigate Constitution (1901); E. Snow, On the Deck of Old Ironsides (1932); T. P. Horgan, Old Ironsides (1963); J. E. Jennings, Tattered Ensign (1966); T. G. Martin, A Most Fortunate Ship (1997).