Defining a Nation

Defining a Nation > National Symbols, Stories & Icons > The National Anthem

The War of 1812 also produced the national anthem of the United States of America. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” after watching Fort McHenry survive the British bombardment.

Key’s new lyrics to a popular tune of the day gained instant popularity in the days after the Battle for Baltimore, but it didn’t become the official national anthem for more than 100 years. During the Civil War, bands played it regularly. The US Navy made it an official part of its flag ceremonies in 1889, and President Woodrow Wilson ordered it to be played for military ceremonies during World War I.

In 1929, the popular newspaper cartoon series “Ripley’s Believe or Not!” noted  that the country had no national anthem. Well-known composer John Philip Sousa published his endorsement of Francis Scott Key’s “soul-stirring” lyrics, and a public campaign began to promote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” President Herbert Hoover finally signed a law on March 3, 1931, to make Key’s song the official national anthem.

  • In a C-Span video, Early American music historian David Hildebrand talks about how the National Anthem was created and the role of patriotic music in the early 1800s.
  • Visit Twin Oaks in Maryland, the home of John Charles Linthicum, the congressman who introduced the legislation to make the “Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem.


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