Today In History: Star Spangled Banner Written

Today In History |

September 13, 1814

Smithsonian Magazine

Today in 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to what would become "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the United States. It was originally titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry," and was written about the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. Key saw the American flag flying above a still-standing Fort McHenry when dawn broke.

Francis Scott Key, in addition to his writing, was also a lawyer who was appointed U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. He was present for the bombing because a friend Dr. William Beanes had been captured by the British. Key went to Baltimore to find the ship where he was being held, and facilitated his release. The two of them, however, were not permitted to leave the area until the British bombardment had finished.

Key watched the fight from eight miles away, aboard the British ship. The British forces, unable to successfully destroy the fort, left after a day. Inspired by the sight of the American flag still standing above it, Key penned the poem that would later become our anthem.


Key published the poem in various newspapers. Others set it to music, to a drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," written by John Stafford Smith. It eventually got its current name, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The United States did not adopt it as the national anthem until 1931. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson decreed that the song should be played at all official events.

The flag that inspired the song can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.