USS Constitution is a wood-hull, three mast heavy frigate of the United States Navy. It was the third constructed of the nation's six capital ships authorized in the Naval Act of 1794. The Constitution and her sisters were larger and more heavily armed and built than other frigates of the period. The early duty of these vessels was to protect American merchant shipping.
During the War of 1812 against Great Britain, the United States Navy was charged with assuring American sovereignty of the seas. The Constitution is most famous for capturing numerous British merchant ships and defeating five British warships including HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant. The battle with the Guerriere earned her the nickname of ³Old Ironsides² and
The design of the first six ships was unusual for the time. They were longer, but narrower in width, and mounted 44 heavy guns. The hulls had greater strength than lightly-built enemy frigates. The ships' design was based on the realization that the fledgling United States of the period could not match the European states in the size of their navies. The frigates were designed to be able to overpower any other frigate.
Maritime scrimshaw, a unique American art form, has its roots in the age of wooden ships. In the 18th century, whaler sailing ships harvested whale and walrus blubber for lamp oil and candle wax. Sailors on whaling ships had a lot of spare time on board their ships. When not hunting and processing
whales, mariners occupied their free time etching and making small objects from whaling byproducts. Bones and teeth from sperm whales, baleen, and walrus tusks were readily available. These were a viable medium to produce hand tools, toys, utensils, and decorative pieces.
Sailors etched pictures and nautical scenes on bone, teeth, and tusks using sail sewing needles and small tools. Candle black, soot, or tobacco juice was used to bring the etched drawings into view. The earliest authenticated pictorial scrimshaw piece appeared around 1817.