The cruise was done from 1931-1934
I recently acquired a collection of Naval Covers. Naval Covers are envelopes indicative of naval related activity. Key features on them are the pictures printed on them, the postage affixed to them, and especially the shipboard post mark.
Amongst the covers I acquired are several covers commemorating the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) visiting ports along the three United States coastlines. I didn't know that Old Ironsides had ever gone to our Pacific coast so I researched the events memorialized on the envelopes. This is what I learned.
From 1925 to 1930, when one cent could buy a piece of penny candy, school children donated their pennies, nickels and dimes to a fund for the restoration of that American icon, the frigate USS Constitution. Then and now, the USS Constitution, affectionately known as Old Ironsides, was and still is the oldest active ship in the United States Navy. It is on duty as a museum ship at the former Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts.
Oh, I'm sure most of the children didn't do without their candy. I feel confident that they cajoled an extra coin or two from their parents to donate to this project. But, that extra coin or two made it past the candy store, into the children's classroom donation box.
The pennies nickels and dimes of the school children were augmented with larger denomination coins, paper money, and checks from men and women across our nation. One hundred fifty-four thousand dollars ($154,000) was raised. That restoration of the USS Constitution took four years to accomplish, 1927 to 1931.
Midway through that restoration, the stock market collapsed marking the start of the Great Depression. When the restoration was complete in 1931, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression.
Relatively speaking, spirits were relatively high at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1931 due to the completion of the frigate's four year restoration. Spirits were low across our nation because of the onslaught of the Great Depression and the dust storms that ravaged the Great Plains.
Thinking to help bolster the spirit of our nation and as a way of saying "Thank you" to the thousands, if not millions, of people who contributed to the restoration fund, Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams promoted the idea of a National Cruise for the fabled ship.
The final decision was to send the USS Constitution to visit ports on the Atlantic coast, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific coast; truly, a National Cruise. The purposes of the cruise were, as promoted, to say "Thank you" to the many people, young and old, who contributed to the restoration fund and to boost the sagging morale of our nation's citizenry.
On July 2, 1931, under tow by the minesweeper USS Grebe, the USS Constitution set out on its three-year National Cruise. The USS Grebe served our national icon as towing-boat and tender for the entire three-year duration of the tour.
The itinerary of the cruise called for stops at more than seventy ports-of-call; the first being the next day at the fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts. From there, Old Ironsides travelled north to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire and then Bar Harbor, Maine before turning south and visiting several Maine ports it had bypassed. Bar Harbor was Old Ironsides northernmost port of call on our eastern seacoast.
The ship passed through the Cape Cod Canal on its way to the former whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusetts and then to Providence, Rhode Island. In 1928, during the fund-raising drive for restoring the Constitution, the federal government purchased the Cape Cod Canal from its private owners. At the time of Old Ironsides passage through that canal, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers had barely started the improvements that make the, then primitive, canal what it is today.
From November 7 to 18, early in its National Cruise, the USS Constitution was visiting the Navy Yard in Washington, D. C. On the anniversary of the end of World War I, not then an official holiday in the United States, President Herbert Hoover visited Old Ironsides.
Crewed by a rotating contingent of six officers, sixty sailors, and fifteen Marines Old Ironsides worked its way south to Miami and Key West, Florida. While in Key West, it celebrated the end of 1931 and the start of the New Year, 1932.
During its travels in the Gulf of Mexico, it visited ports in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas and then reversed its direction and visited more ports of call on the Gulf Coast before returning to the Washington D. C, area.
The USS Constitution remained in Washington, D. C., from May 1932 to early December of that year when it resumed its National Cruise.
Its first port of call was Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It next visited Cristobal and Balboa, Panama as it passed through the Panama Canal. While visiting Balboa, Panama, the crew said goodbye to the old year 1932 and ushered in the New Year 1933.
From Panama, Old Ironsides sailed north to visit ports on the west coast of the United States as far north as Gray's Harbor, in Washington State and then reversed its course to visit or revisit ports as it travelled south.
When the USS Constitution arrived in San Diego on November 3, 1933 it wintered over until March 20, 1934.
The USS Constitution revisited Balboa and Cristobal in Panama as the USS Grebe towed it through the Panama Canal back to the familiar Atlantic Ocean.
Two multi-day stops at Saint Petersburg, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina highlighted the final leg of the three-year cruise. On May 7, 1934, Old Ironsides and its towing ship, the USS Grebe, arrived back home in Boston.
Upon completion of its National Cruise, the deck of the USS Constitution needed refurbishing because more than four million visitors had walked on it during the three-year National Cruise.
Old Ironsides is still on active duty and is berthed at the former Charlestown Navy Yard. It serves as a museum ship with a crew of U. S. Navy personnel. Tours of the ship are readily available. Nearby, the National Park Service maintains the USS Constitution Museum.