The weatherproof stock of Old Ironsides, barrels, and mission furniture When England sought wood to rebuild her once-great naval fleet, eyes turned to the American colonies' forests of white oak because by the 1700s, English oaks had all been felled. British ship-builders, though, scorned New World oak as inferior. Proud American builders knew better, and built ships of native timber. The famed frigate Constitution, known as Old Ironsides, had a gun deck of Massachusetts white oak, a keel from New Jersey white oak, and frame and planks from magnificent Maryland trees. As New England sea captains went on to sail their all-American, white-oak ships to the far corners of the world, another growing industry also made far-reaching use of the wood. Ever since colonial times, coopers had hand-riven staves of white oak for barrels. And as the young nation's merchant fleet increasingly sailed the seas, it carried with it more and more cooperage for export trade. Some of it was bound for France's vineyards, or to the West Indies for barreling rum and molasses. Later, during the Victorian Age of the late 1800s, still another use emerged-as a fine firrniture wood. Stained and highly varnished, it was sold as Golden Oak, and attained a popularity that persisted through the mission furniture of the 1920s. Today, even though somewhat revived for furniture and cabinets, white oak represents less than one fifth of all oak-red and white-harvested in the U.S.
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