History of the Star-Spangled Banner

By E. Malik

The Star-Spangled Banner has a glorious history, full of grit, determination, and indomitable will of the Americans. It was penned by Francis Scott, a 35-year-old American lawyer. The story begins with Francis Scott Key, who boarded a British fleet at the Chesapeake Bay to persuade the British to release one of his friends. He was able to secure the release of his friend, but he and his friend weren’t allowed to return, as they now knew that the British were planning to attack Baltimore. 


After some time, the British allowed Francis and his friend to board their vessel, but the British didn’t stop guarding it. While on the boat, Key and his friends witnessed the barrage of Fort McHenry. They were just eight miles away from it at that time. Fort McHenry faced an onslaught of shells and rockets from the British warships for 25 long hours. This British attack came just after a week of their attack on Washington, D.C.


Testament of American Will


Key was shocked by the brutality of the British attack and later described the attack in writing, “It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone.” The sheer scale of the attack made Key believe that the British would undoubtedly win. However, he saw the American flag flying high over the fort after the dust cleared as if announcing the American victory. 


The moment was a sight to behold, and Key was enamored by it. While still on the ship, Key started penning his thoughts to the tune of a popular English song. Key’s words were read by his brother-in-law, who was also a commander of the militia at Fort McHenry. He was so impressed by Key’s poem, that he got it distributed under the name of “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” 

Francis Scott Key, 1779-1843, he was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, vintage line drawing or engraving illustration

The poem written by Key was soon printed on the Baltimore Patriot newspaper, and within a few weeks, it appeared as “The Star-Spangled Banner” across prints nationwide. It immortalized Key’s words, and soon the flag that was celebrated by his words started being known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


How “Star-Spangled Banner” became the National Anthem of the United States?


The “Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national song by the then President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson in 1916. However, this ruling was not codified then. 


The process of declaring “Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem began in 1929 with the presentation of “House Resolution 14” to Congress. It faced many objections and wasn’t passed in 1929. The resolution was finally passed in 1930 after the Congress reintroduced it. It was chosen over the other competitors like “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful,” and “Hail, Columbia.”


Story About the Flag


Mary Pickersgill sewed the flag, which flew on the Fort McHenry. Major Armistice commissioned Mary to sew two flags for Fort McHenry. The flag’s requested sizes were 17 by 25 ft and another flag of 30 by 42 ft. Mary had to take the help of her daughter and two nieces along with an indentured African American servant to sew such large flags. It is also possible that other workers may have assisted Mary, but their names were not recorded. 


Later on, Major George Armistead was promoted to the position of Lieutenant Colonel. He also acquired the flag before his death in 1818. Later on, the flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institute by Eben Appleton, Armistead’s grandson. The Smithsonian Institute hired Amelia Fowler in 1914 to restore the flag and keep the flag stabilized as it was kept on display. 


Second preservation efforts began in 1981. However, the preservation efforts of 1981 weren’t enough, and the flag had to be removed from the display in 1994. It was back on display again later on, after a new light-controlled exhibit was created to house it. 


“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”