Monday, September 14, 2015
September 13, 1814 - Francis Scott Key watches the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland. Key and another man had gone to secure a prisoner exchange with the British, and were kept on the British ships during the attack because they had overhead plans for the attack being made. Throughout the rainy, dark night, rockets and exploding shells repeatedly hit the fort, which the Royal Navy needed to destroy before it can invade Baltimore. At dawn on September 14, the attack ended. Fort McHenry still stood. And the Americans raised a 30 by 42 feet 15-star, 15-stripe flag over the fort.
Key was so moved by the site, he wrote a poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner", on the spot on the back of an envelope. When Key was released on September 16, he returned to his hotel and finished the poem. Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, who realized that the words fit the popular melody "The Anacreontic Song" (by English composer John Stafford Smith). Nicholson took the poem to a printer in Baltimore, who anonymously made the first known printing on September 17. Two copies from this printing are known to survive.
Although Key titled his poem "The Defense of Fort M'Henry", Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music under the title "The Star Spangled Banner". The song's first public performance took place in October 1814.
By the early 20th century, various arrangements and word-versions of the song existed. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson asked the U.S. Bureau of Education to provide an "official: version. The Bureau enlisted the help of musicians Walter Damrosch, Will Earhart, Arnold J. Gantvoort, Oscar Sonneck, and John Philip Sousa, and a standardized version premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 5, 1917.
On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed legislation making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem of the United States of America.