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Star-Spangled Banner

On the night of September 13-14, 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Georgetown in the District of Columbia, was a civilian trapped on the edge of a fight. He had just secured the release of an American prisoner of war. However, since Key and his companions had been present for British discussions of the attack on Baltimore, they were detained while the British launched their 3-day land and sea attack. They were held on their own boat approximately eight miles from the Baltimore harbor, which was guarded by Fort McHenry.

Through the stormy night, the British bombarded the fort, and from the Americans' vantage point, they seemed unbeatable. But, as the dawn of the 14th broke, Key saw the American flag flying above the fort, inspiring him to write a poem called "The Defense of Fort McHenry." Soon renamed "The Star Spangled Banner" and set to the tune of a popular English drinking song, Key's poem ultimately became the national anthem in 1931.

The Flag was in the care of the Armistead Family from 1818 to 1912. Major George Armistead was the commander of Fort McHenry during the famous Battle of Baltimore. His grandson, Eben Appleton, loaned the Star-Spangled Banner to the Smithsonian in 1907 and converted that loan to a gift in 1912. The Star-Spangled Banner is currently undergoing conservation treatment, which is expected to conclude in the summer of 2002.



The Stars and Stripes

The flag of the United States was created by an official act of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777: "Resolved That the Flag of the United States be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation." This national emblem represents the United States and its citizens and is probably the most cherished and beloved symbol of our nation wherever it is used.

[From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 16.]


Star-Spangled Banner recording

"Star-Spangled Banner," from the recording entitled Anthems of All Nations, Volume One, Folkways SFW CD FS 3881, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1955. Used by permission.


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