On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the United States national anthem. The image above shows the cover from the program for the celebration marking the centennial of the battle at Fort McHenry and the writing of The Star Spangled Banner, a copy of which can be found in our library collection.
We consulted with Loras Schissel, of the Music Division of the Library of Congress, concerning the history of The Star Spangled Banner and of To Anacreon in Heaven, the tune on which The Star Spangled Banner is based. According to Schissel, The Star Spangled Banner, as sung, is the only national anthem that ends in a question mark. It’s not a drinking song, but was written as a “club” song for the Anacreontics and was writen to show off the good voice and range of one of the singers.
In 1931 President Herbert Hoover signed legislation which made the Star Spangled Banner the United States’ official national anthem. When Irving Berlin was asked if he thought God Bless America should be national anthem, he said, “we already have one … and it’s a darn good one.”
Learn more about the history of the Star Spangled Banner in this website from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.