This page contains some of the most frequently asked questions about USS Constitution and the Museum's collections. If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact us using the Reference Request form.
The best way to find out information about USS Constitution-related items is to contact the staff of the Curatorial Department by submitting a Reference Request. Please include the following information:
The department handles requests on a first-come, first-served basis. Please be aware that due to the volume of requests we receive daily, it may take up to eight weeks to receive a response.
Federal law prohibits the USS Constitution Museum—and all museums—from providing appraisal services to patrons who might be in possession of USS Constitution-related art and objects, or other historic materials. The American Association of Appraisers can provide a state-by-state list of accredited appraisers arranged by subject category.
American Society of Appraisers
P.O. Box 17265
Washington, DC 20041-0265
The Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library is open for researchers Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. by appointment only. Patrons interested in conducting research in the Museum's archives and collections should contact the Curatorial Department at Library@ussconstitutionmuseum.org or at (617) 426-1812 ext. 118.
Please see the Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library page for more information on research policies and procedures.
For full details on obtaining images for publication, please consult the "Obtaining Images, Text, and Multimedia from the Museum's Collections" and "Requesting Permission to Publish" sections on the Rights and Reproductions page. Please be advised that all image requests are at the discretion of the Curatorial Department, and that fees for these services vary.
The Museum is always looking for Constitution-related artifacts and documents to add to our collection. The USS Constitution Museum adds to its growing collections through gift, purchase, and bequest. Anyone interested in donating an item related to USS Constitution should contact the Museum's Curatorial Department at (617) 426-1812 ext. 147 or Library@ussconstitutionmuseum.org.
Constitution’s 58th commanding officer, CDR Tyrone G. Martin, has compiled an extensive genealogical database of the men who served on the ship from 1798 to the present. Contact CDR Martin directly at:
The Captain's Clerk
70 Devil’s Ridge
Tryon, NC 28782-3215
To speed the research process, please provide as much information as possible, including the crew member's name and approximate dates of service.
For a list of other services and research provided by The Captain's Clerk, visit the website here.
The Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston, the unit charged with overseeing Constitution’s maintenance and repair, estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the ship’s fabric is composed of timber installed between 1795 and 1797. This “original” wood includes the ship’s keel, lower futtocks, and the deadwood at the stem and stern.
The best and most exciting way to discover what life was like on board USS Constitution is to visit the Museum’s new exhibit “All Hands on Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812.”
For suggested reading on the topic, please see the Bibliography.
Please download more information here.
Originally rated as a 44-gun frigate, Constitution typically carried around 54 cannon. During the War of 1812, she mounted thirty 24-pdr long guns on the gundeck and twenty-four 32-pdr carronades on the spar deck, as well as a long 18-pdr “chase” gun forward. In 1814, Capt. Charles Stewart removed four carronades and replaced them with two 24-pdr Congreve “shifting gunades.” She also carried a 12-pdr brass carronade for the launch.
Today all of Constitution’s guns are replicas. All but two of the guns on board were cast in the 1920s and 30s. Two carronades aft on the spar deck were cast in 1983, based on a drawing of the weapons used during the War of 1812. Founder Henry Foxall cast the carronades in 1808, and these were on board when she was recommissioned in 1809. The Navy removed them after the Ship’s World Cruise in the 1840s. The incised “broad arrow” on some of the 24-pounders is a British mark, signifying that the gun was originally property of the (British) Crown. The other mark is called the “royal cipher:” GR for Georgius Rex (King George III). These replicas were cast about 1930, and the cipher/board arrow marks were based on bad information – Constitution’s guns did not carry these marks.
Between 1807 and 1808, Maryland’s Cecil Iron Works cast all of the 24-pounder guns used on board during the War of 1812. Most of them remained until the late 1840s. Constitution’s original (1797) battery was to have been supplied by Hope Furnace in Rhode Island. After running into some casting and boring problems, however, the contractor could not fill the contract by the time the ship was ready to sail in 1798. To complete her battery, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts loaned the Navy 16 18-pound long guns from Fort Independence. These guns might have had the broad arrow, but again, these guns were gone by the War of 1812.
Constitution’s 1812 long guns weighed 5554 pounds exclusive of the carriage and required a crew of 14 men to operate them. The carronades weighed 2222 lbs without the carriage and needed a crew of 4 to 8 men.
The USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild maintains an extensive library of books, model plans, photographs, and other resources to assist modelers with their projects. Contact the Guild by telephone at (617) 426-1812 ext. 130, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on-site at the Guild’s model shop located on the first floor of the USS Constitution Museum. For more information on the Guild, membership opportunities, or annual events, please visit their website here.
The truth is we really don't know exactly how Constitution looked when first she saw service. While the designer's original draught still exists, there is much additional documentary evidence that makes it clear that the builders did not follow the plans with exactitude. The earliest known artist's rendering was done about 1803 by Michel Felice Cornè; the earliest model dates from 1812. But if we cannot see her directly, we can construct a reasonably good image of her first appearance by extrapolation from the draught, from diary and journal entries, and from newspaper articles of the period. Read more >>
Constitution fought the British frigate Guerriere on August 19, 1812. According to American seaman Moses Smith, several British shot entered Constitution's hull. "One of the largest the enemy could command struck us, but the plank was so hard it fell out and sank in the waters. This was afterwards noticed, and the cry arose: 'Huzza! Her sides are made of iron! See where the shot fell out!"
As early as 1813 both the press and the ship's officers used the name "Old Ironsides" in print, and she has been called by that name ever since.
Constitution’s keel, or backbone, measures 150 feet long. The ship’s length at the waterline is 175 feet, and overall she measures 207 feet from billet head to taffrail. If the bowsprit and spanker gaff are taken into account, the ship stretches 304 feet from stem to stern. The ship’s maximum width is 43.6 feet. The mainmast stands a lofty 210 feet from truck to keelson. The ship displaces in excess of 1900 tons and draws 21 feet aft, 19 feet forward.
Please download more information here.
Find out more about Constitution and her crew, life at sea in the Age of Sail, and shipbuilding and seamanship. Please download more information here.