star-spangledThe “Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem, or national song, of the United States. The words are from a poem that was written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. During the War of 1812, on September 13, 1814, Key watched a night-time battle between Great Britain and America that took place in Baltimore, Maryland at Fort McHenry. He was trying to secure the release of prisoners but ended up being detained and held by the British. The bombing of Fort McHenry continued throughout the night, and the American flag, the symbol of our nation, was not always visible. If the flag was not flying or was replaced with a British flag, it would mean that the British had captured the fort.

When he could see that the American flag was still flying in the morning, he wrote a poem that tells the story of his experience. It began with these words:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

In the 1800’s the song was performed and sung at public events; the poem was written to be sung to a popular British melody called, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

One of the original flags that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 is called the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This flag is old and fragile, but is now being cared for at the American Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

“Star-Spangled Banner” facts and figures:

  • In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an Executive Order to make it our national anthem.
  • In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a Public Law that made it the official national anthem.
  • “To Anacreon in Heaven” came from the Anacreontic Society, which was a group that gathered in London in the 1700s to promote interest in music.

To listen to the anthem, view one of the original copies of the poem written by Francis Scott Key, and to view images of the original flag, see the Smithsonian’s Star Spangled Banner site.