On this date in 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially made the national anthem of the United States.
Here are some things you may not have known about the song and its history.
The War of 1812 between the Americans and the British actually lasted until 1815. It was on Sept. 7, 1814, that Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant off of Baltimore to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. While aboard, Key and Skinner were privy to British attack plans against Baltimore and were held captive until the conclusion of the battle. On September 13, 19 British warships began pounding Fort McHenry with rockets and mortar shells. The bombardment continued for 27 hours, but inflicted little damage because of recent fortifications.
Key, who was watching the battle from the HMS Minden, saw a small American flag flying above the fort during the battle, but after the barrage had stopped, he was unable to see whether the flag was still flying. By morning the small flag had been lowered and in its place an enormous 30-foot by 42-foot flag had been raised. Early on it was said that the large flag was used to taunt the British. However, this was later disproved, as the flag was used every morning for reveille. Onboard the ship, Key wrote the beginning of his poem and finished it the next day after he was released in Baltimore. The British fleet left Chesapeake Bay and set sail for New Orleans.
The song tells the tale of the battle from Key’s perspective and is set to the tune of The Anacreontic Song, a British drinking song written in 1780. By the end of the month, the song, originally titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry” had been published in 17 newspapers up and down the country. Thomas Carr, a music store owner in Baltimore is credited with giving the song its current name. The song has four verses, but the first one is the only one commonly played.
Until 1931 the United States didn’t have an official national anthem. Between 1831 and 1931, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” was the de facto national anthem. That song, with lyrics written by Samuel Francis Smith, was set to the tune of the United Kingdom’s “God Save the Queen.” In 1889, the secretary of the Navy signed an order making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official song to be played when raising the flag. In 1931, composer John Philip Sousa said he was in favor of making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover made it official by signing it into law.
The song was first played at a sporting event in 1897 on opening day of baseball season in Philadelphia. The practice of performing the national anthem before every game didn’t start until World War II. The song, with a range of more than an octave and a half, is notoriously difficult to sing, as Carl Lewis and Roseanne Barr will tell you.
Our question: How many stars and stripes were on the flag that flew over Fort McHenry?
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