"Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light / What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? / Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, / O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?" These lyrics, written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, became the opening words to our National Anthem by Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931. Learn what they mean, and how they came to be written at this week's Star-Spangled Banner picks.
For elementary grades, Ben Franklin tells the story of how Francis Scott Key was held overnight by the British during the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. In the morning light, when Key saw the huge American flag still flying over the fort, he knew that the Americans were victorious. The poem that he scribbled down in gratitude that morning, become the lyrics to our national anthem more than one hundred years later.
From the History & Culture section of the Encyclopedia Smithsonian, this entry is full of important stats about the original star-spangled banner that "inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem." For example, it was sewn in Baltimore, Maryland by flagmaker Mary Pickersgill, and it was thirty feet by forty-two feet. Unfortunately, age has shrunk it to just thirty-four feet across. Visit for quick access to all the facts you need to start a school report or project.
"The Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project is saving an American treasure -- the flag that inspired our national anthem. At the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, we are engaged in a significant effort to preserve this icon, which has been endangered by time, and exposure to pollution and the elements. In this Web site, you may learn the Star-Spangled Banner's origins and history, consider the flag's symbolism, track the conservation team's progress, and explore our educational offerings."
In 1812, Francis Scott Key was a young Georgetown lawyer living just a few miles from the federal buildings in Washington. D.C., when war broke out over Britain's attempts to regulate American shipping while Britain was at war with France. Learn about the turn of events that landed Key on a British ship in the Baltimore harbor on September 13, 1814 as the British attacked Fort McHenry.