Question of the Week
On August 19, 1812, the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere and subsequently earned a nickname that it has held to this day. What is that nickname?
Answer: “Old Ironsides.”
On August 19, 1812, the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere and earned the nickname “Old Ironsides.” The USS Constitution was one of the first six ships designed for the nation’s nascent navy, which was founded in 1794 with the signing of the Naval Armament Act. This act called for six frigates to be built at various ports along the eastern seaboard. The Constitution, which was built in Boston, MA, was designed by Philadelphia shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys (1751-1838).
Born in Haverford, PA, Joshua Humphreys became a ship carpenter’s apprentice in Philadelphia in his youth and eventually became well-known in the colonies as a naval architect after he built his own ship yard. In 1776, he was commissioned by the government to build ships in Philadelphia and to prepare them for the Revolutionary War.
After the war, Humphreys was again commissioned to build a naval fleet to protect the country from pirates and other attacking ships. Humphreys made some key changes to improve six frigates that became the foundation of the American navy. His designs and modifications were approved by the government, and in 1794 he was formally appointed naval constructor, with the charge to build the frigates. Of the six ships, only the United States was built in Philadelphia under his supervision. All of the ships, however, included the modifications suggested by Humphreys, and became known for their speed and efficiency.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.