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United States National Anthem Day

Updated on September 25, 2014

March 3rd is National Anthem Day in the USA!

Did you know that we had a National Anthem Day? Well, we do! It is celebrated every year on March 3rd, in honor of March 3, 1931, the year congress made "The Star-Spangled Banner" our National Anthem.

Our national anthem was born during a time of turmoil in our country, as most patriotic songs seem to come about.

Read on to find out the story behind the song, and show your pride by flying the Star Spangled Banner on March 3!

If you like the flag print in the intro photo, you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to purchase it from art.com

Giclee print of Francis Scott Key
Giclee print of Francis Scott Key

How the National Anthem Came to Be

The War of 1812 was well underway. The British had just raided Washington D.C. and set fire to the White House and the Capitol. It was September 1814, and the next plan was to send out a fleet of ships to attack Baltimore, Maryland. This fleet arrived in the waters off Fort McHenry and anchored there. The fort was poised to defend Baltimore's port, and awaited the British attack.

While the British fleet was at anchor, Francis Scott Key, a Maryland lawyer, along with a U.S. government agent, sailed out to the British to plead for the release of an American doctor, Dr. William Beanes, who was being held captive on one of the British ships.

The British agreed to release the doctor, but by then it was too late for the three men to make it to shore. The three men were transferred back to the American ship that they sailed out to them on, and there they stayed until the 25 hour attack on Fort McHenry was over. Can you imagine being an American, sitting helplessly on a ship, watching your country being attacked, and not knowing whether or not your country would be victorious by the next morning? It had to be an extremely emotional time for the three Americans. Key watched the "rockets red glare" and the "bombs bursting in air" over the fort all night long. The air grew heavy with a thick fog and smoke, and eventually Fort McHeny could no longer be seen.

The dawn came, and the mist and smoke gradually cleared, and it was then that Key got his first glimpse of Fort McHenry after the battle. His eye was immediately drawn to the American flag, which still flew majestically above the fort. Key rejoiced, because this meant that the British had not taken the fort. Key was so moved, in fact, that he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and began to scribble verses on the back. Later that day, the three Americans were allowed to return to shore. All the while, Key had been polishing up the verses he had been writing. These verses were first published with the title "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

The words began to be sung to the melody of a song that became popular in the U.S. in the 1790's. The song was originally written for a London musical society and was called "To Anacreon in Heaven." The poem and song made such a great pairing that they were both later renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The Words to the Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key

(All Four Verses!)

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watched 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.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,

In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:

'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,

A home and a country should leave us no more!

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war's desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

"The Star-Spangled Banner"

was made our official national anthem by Congress on March 3, 1931, more than 116 years after it was written!

Confession Time..

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Do you know all the words to the Star-Spangled Banner?

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The Flag Acts

  1. The first Flag Act created the original United States flag of 13 stars and 13 stripes on June 14, 1777.
  2. The second Flag Act provided for the creation of the 15 star, 15 stripe, "Star-Spangled Banner" flag on January 13, 1794. The extra two stars and stripes were added because of two new states that entered the Union; Vermont, (admitted March 4, 1791), and Kentucky, (admitted June 1, 1792).
  3. The third Flag Act, passed on April 4, 1818, brought the number of stripes back down to 13 to honor the 13 original colonies, and provided that a new star be added for each new state that joined the Union. Each new state was to get it's star on the Fourth of July after their admission to the Union.

Mary Pickersgill
Mary Pickersgill

The Making of the Original "Star-Spangled Banner" flag

In June 1813, Major George Armistead took command of Fort McHenry. He commissioned a Baltimore flag maker by the name of Mary Pickersgill to sew two flags for the fort; a storm flag which was to measure 17 by 25 feet, and a garrison flag which was to measure 30 by 42 feet. She was hired under government contract and sewed the two flags with help from her daughter, two nieces, and an indentured African-American girl. It was the larger flag that would be later known as "The Star-Spangled Banner." No one knows what happened to the smaller storm flag.

The material used for the red and white stripes and the blue union background was dyed English wool bunting. White cotton was used for the stars. Each star measured about 2 feet across, and each stripe measured about 2 feet wide. There were to be 15 stars and 15 stripes to account for the states of Vermont and Kentucky that were admitted to the Union. This flag was meant to be large because it was to fly from a 90 foot tall flagpole and should be able to be seen from far away.

It took Pickersgill and her helpers around 6 to 8 weeks to make the two flags, and the flags arrived at Fort McHenry on August 19, 1813.

The government paid $405.90 for the garrison flag and $168.54 for the storm flag.

Now We Know...

The flag that Francis Scott Key saw the morning after the attack had 15 stars and 15 stripes, and measured 30 feet by 42 feet! The flag of Key's day was the only US flag to have more than 13 stripes!

The Original Flag that Flew Over Fort McHenry - Look at the size of this flag! It had to be a majestic sight for Francis Scott Key, and he saw it in color!

This photograph was taken in 1873 in the Boston Navy Yard by George Henry Preble. It is of the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. That was 59 years after the attack, and it is the first known photo of the flag.

This picture is in the public domain as listed on wikimedia commons.

Five Presidents Served Under the 15 Star, 15 Stripe Flag of Key's Day

They were:

  1. George Washington (1789-1797)
  2. John Adams (1797-1801)
  3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
  4. James Madison (1809-1817)
  5. James Monroe (1817-1825)

15 star, 15 stripe American Flag replica

You can get your own replica of the 15 star, 15 stripe American flag! Great for history projects, show and tell, or other presentations.

Souvenir Requests

The Armistead family, who became owners of the flag, received many requests for a piece of their flag, but only gave out pieces to veterans, certain government officials and certain honored citizens. As Georgiana Armistead Appleton stated, "had we given all that we have been importuned for little would be left to show." Still, over 200 square feet of the flag ended up being given away.

Fun Fact...

On November 30, 2011, one of the souvenir snippets of the flag, measuring 2 inches by 5 inches, was sold at an auction in Dallas, Texas, for 38,837 dollars. The snippet was thought to have been cut from the flag in the mid 19th century.

Where is the Original "Star-Spangled Banner" now... - And how did it get there?

The original flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 is now on display at The Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. It had a long history before it arrived at The Smithsonian though. Let's look at the flag's travels after that historic day in 1814.

  • Major Armistead was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel, and the flag remained in his possessioin until his death, when the flag then went to his wife.
  • Armistead's widow passed away in 1861, and the Star-Spangled Banner was bequeathed to Armistead's daughter, Georgiana Armistead Appleton. She recognized that the flag had significance not only to her family, but to the nation as well. She allowed the flag to be displayed publicly several times, and also cut souvenir snippets from it to recognize and honor special people of her day.
  • Armistead's grandson, Eben Appleton, inherited the flag from his mother in 1878.
  • In 1907, Eben Appleton loaned the flag to the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1912 converted that loan to a permanent gift.

Wow...

"The Star-Spangled Banner" flag now measures 30 feet by 34 feet, instead of the original 30 feet by 42 feet, due to pieces of the fly edge being cut off in snippets as souvenirs. Over 200 square feet of the flag was given away before it made it to the Smithsonian.

Eben Appleton wrote...

"It is always such a satisfaction to me to feel that the flag is just where it is, in possession for all time of the very best custodian, where it is beautifully displayed and can be conveniently seen by so many people."

Some Notes on the Performances Below by Whitney Houston (1963-2012) and Marvin Gaye (1939-1984)

Whitney Houston performed our national anthem at Superbowl XXV in 1991. This happened to be only 9 days after the start of the Persian Gulf War. A lot of our men and women were overseas fighting. The demand was so great for the song after she sang it, that she recorded it as a single. Two weeks after her performance, the single was a big hit on the Billboard charts. She and Arista records both donated their royalties from the sale of the single to help the soldiers and families serving in and affected by the Gulf War. The total royalties donated to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund ended up being 531,650 dollars.

This single was re-released in 2001, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Whitney Houston and Arista records again donated their royalties; this time to the firefighters and victims of the terrorist attacks. This time the single peaked at #6 on the US Hot 100, and RIAA certified it platinum. The single even climbed to #5 on the Canadian Singles Chart!

Marvin Gaye's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung in 1983 at the NBA All-Star Game. It has been regarded by many as one of the most memorable entertainment moments in sports history. He sang a soulful rendition of our national anthem, and it was definitely not traditional. He forever changed the way people thought about the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Just two weeks after his performance at the All-Star Game, Gaye was awarded his first two Grammy's. He later appeared on Motown's 25th Anniversary special. His singing of the national anthem ended up being one of his most celebrated live performances, it also became the most sought after bootlegged copy. The performance became popular again in 2008, when Nike used it in an Olympic commercial promoting the US men's national basketball team.

Tragically, we lost Marvin Gaye on April 1, 1984. He was shot and killed by his father after a heated argument. Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

The National Anthem Goes Platinum!

Whitney Houston was the first musical act to take "The Star-Spangled Banner" to the US Top 10, and also the first to have it certified platinum in 2001!

How should "The Star-Spangled Banner" be sung?

For ages, there has been debate over how to sing our national anthem. Some people say it should strictly adhere to the original music, and feel that it is non-patriotic to add new rhythms, or change it in any way. How do feel on this subject? You may also comment on why you voted the way you did.

Do you think it is irreverent to take liberties and deviate from the original music of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in any way?

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Books and Teaching Resources to Introduce Children to "The Star-Spangled Banner - These make great additions to homeschool lessons!

Here are some posters and other learning aids to help teach "The Star-Spangled Banner" and it's history to your children.

How did you do on the quiz? Also, if your favorite anthem singer isn't Whitney or Marvin, tell us who it is here! - Please add your comments here!

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