On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner,” a song that was adopted as America’s national anthem. Although most people are familiar with the lyrics, many don’t know the following things about our nation’s anthem...
The Patriotic Song Written by Key Was Unusual Because He Opposed the War Key’s song was written about three weeks following the burning of the U.S. Capitol, the President’s House and the Treasury Building by the British. Unfortunately, the British forces heavily outweighed the fledgling American forces. Key sided with most Americans at the time in thinking negotiations with the British could avoid war. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives had both voted for war on June 12, 1812, in the closest vote in the history of America.
He Was Aboard a British Ship When He Wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” Key was a lawyer who had boarded the British ship, Tonnant, in order to negotiate the release of William Beanes, a physician who had been arrested by the British after he confronted soldiers who were attempting to plunder his home in Maryland. The Americans on board the ship, Key, Beanes and a man named John Skinner, who was a prisoner exchange officer, could not leave the ship because the attack on Baltimore had begun, so they were forced to watch from onboard a British vessel. Eight miles from Fort McHenry, he saw the “red glare” and “bombs bursting.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” Wasn’t the Original Name of the Song The verse had been written by Key originally on the back of a letter to voice his relief that the American flag was still flying at the fort. He had only written a few lines and finished the poem after he arrived in his hotel in Baltimore, expanding it to contain four stanzas. The song had been titled “The Defense of Fort M’Henry, however, it was later changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Song Is Set to an Old British Drinking Tune The tune for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was taken from "To Anacreon in Heaven,” and was written for a British social club to celebrate women, song and wine. This wasn’t the only American patriotic song that borrowed the tune of another songwriter. “America” (My Country Tis of Thee) copies its tune from Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” and the tune for “America the Beautiful” came from an 1882 hymn, “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem.”
The Song Was First Heard at a Sporting Event in 1862 Sports fans all know that the national anthem will be sung at sporting events; however, many don’t know that the first time it was sung was in Brooklyn, New York, at a baseball game in 1862, during the Civil War. After it was named the national anthem in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, it was played in 1918 at the World Series seventh inning stretch in the games between the Red Sox and Cubs (the Sox won). By the time World War II rolled around, baseball and football teams were playing the national anthem as a show of patriotism, and the tradition continues to this day.