Discover Copper Online

Fall 1997

"Old Ironsides" Still Protected by Copper

"Old Ironsides" in dry dock with its new copper-clad hull. (Photo enhanced by Brian Revere, great-great-great-great-great grandson of Paul Revere.)

Not only did Paul Revere supply the brass fittings and the ship's bronze bell for the U.S.S. Constitution when it was built in 1797, he also claims to have supplied the copper for resheathing its hull in 1802. Copper was used then and now to prevent biofouling or barnacle buildup in marine environments.

The first sheathing of "Old Ironsides" was done with copper sheet imported from England. But when it came time to refit the man-of-war, the federal government loaned Revere $10,000 to build the first American mill to roll copper. Revere said his mill produced the copper for the Constitution and for the boilers of Robert Fulton's steamboats, including the "Clermont," the world's first practical steamship, launched in 1807 The mill also supplied the copper for the gilded dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Commander Ty Martin, USN (Ret.), who was skipper of the Constitution from 1974 to 1978, has documents that indicate the copper (for the resheathing of the hull) produced by that first rolling mill in Canton, Massachusetts, was "too brittle." But there's also speculation that it wasn't Revere who supplied the copper. Historian Maxwell Whiteman claims the copper for the 1802 resheathing was provided by Harmon Hendricks, an early industrialist.

There's a sample of Revere's copper sheet at the Paul Revere Memorial Association in Boston, but it has never been analyzed to determine if it was indeed too brittle, says Patrick M. Leehey, coordinator or research.

In April 1995, a second Paul Revere, the great-great-great grandson of the "Midnight Rider," drove the nails to affix new barnacle-rejecting copper to the Constitution's wooden hull. The ship was relaunched with great ceremony in 1997 and is on permanent display in Boston Harbor.

The copper for this latest restoration was supplied by Revere Copper Products. The job required 10,000 pounds of C11000 copper, which was rolled to a thickness of 0.228 inches at Revere's plant in Rome, New York. According to executive vice president, Donald M. Commerford, it was delivered in 320 sheets, each measuring 36x96 inches.

The Revere family sold its interest in the original rolling mill in the late 1800's. Decades later it was one of the five mills merged into Revere Copper and Brass, Inc. A member of the Revere family served on the company's board until the 1950's. The company was reformed as Revere Copper Products, Inc., in 1987.

Paul Revere Memorial
Association: (617) 523-2338
Revere Copper: (800) 448-1776

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