5 Things You Didn't Know About the Star-Spangled Banner

On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," which was later adopted as the U.S. National Anthem. Find out these 5 surprising things you never knew about this song and its namesake...


The Melody Is From an Old Drinking Song A social club in London named the Anacreontic Society had an official drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heav’n,” which is the same tune as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” John Adams, while he was running a campaign for reelection against Thomas Jefferson, borrowed the tune to set to a poem titled “Adams and Liberty.” It warned against involvement by foreigners and mercantilism as opposed to Thomas Jefferson’s sympathies toward the French. While Jefferson won the election as president, the old English drinking song set to Adams’ poem may have endeared the tune to Americans who heard it.

A Different Flag Was Flying When Key Wrote His Poem During the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry, it was not only raining heavily all night but bombs were showering down. The woolen garrison flag flying over Fort McHenry was 30 feet by 42 feet, which made it so heavy that 11 men were required to raise it even when it was dry. Wet, it might have weighed up to 500 pounds, which would have broken the flagpole, so the 17 by 15-foot storm flag was flying in its place the night of the bombardment and replaced by the garrison flag the next morning, which was when Key must have seen it.


The Song Was Adopted as the National Anthem in 1931 Robert Ripley, the entertaining owner of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” pointed out in 1929 that the U.S. lacked a national anthem. He received many letters from the public, which he responded to by saying they should write their congressmen. As a result, Congress was presented with a petition holding five million signatures, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” became officially the national anthem in 1931.

It’s the Name of a Famous Flag The Star-Spangled Banner is also the name of the larger flag that was flown at Fort McHenry, and was made by a woman in Baltimore named Mary Pickersgill in 1813. It was Pickersgill who sewed both of the flags destined for Fort McHenry. The smaller one was designed to weather the elements, no matter how bad the weather was, which would save wear on the bigger flag.

The Flag Was Hidden During World War II The flag that flew over Fort McHenry and dubbed the Star-Spangled Banner was sent to the Smithsonian Museum in 1907 for preservation and has only been removed once since it was donated in 1914 by Eben Appleton. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Roosevelt feared an attack on the National Mall, so the flag was sent to Luray, Virginia, to the Shenandoah National Park to keep it safe along with other items of historical importance. The flag that was the inspiration for America’s National Anthem is on display at the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.