On This Day in 1931, “The Star-Spangled Banner” Officially Became the National Anthem; Today is National Anthem Day

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem of the United States.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” could be considered a mashup of sorts. The lyrics to the anthem were written in 1814 and the music comes from the British as far back as 1773.

The music is a popular British song known as “To Anacreon in Heaven,” written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society. The song is also known as “The Anacreontic Song” that served as the official song of the Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. The earliest mention of the song dates back to journals from 1773 by composer John Marsh. “The Star-Spangled Banner” took on the tune of the song which was popular in the United States at the time the lyrics were written.

The Anacreontic Song – The song became extremely popular in America, where it was used to accompany a number of verses, including the patriotic song called “Adams and Liberty,” before 1814. Key himself used the tune for his 1805 song, “When the Warrior Returns from the Battle Afar.” Credit: Smithsonian

The National Anthem’s lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 titled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Key wrote the poem after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The battle was carried out by British Ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor on September 13, 1814. The next day, an oversized American flag was raised for reveille and that moment inspired Key to pen his famous poem on September 14, 1813.

Key reportedly gave the poem to his brother-in-law Joseph H. Nicholson who saw that Key’s words fit the melody of “The Anacreontic Song.” On September 20, 1814, the song was printed in two publications after which the song gained popularity; it went viral after 17 newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printed it. Initially, the song was printed with the note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven” and was published as “The Star-Spangled Banner” shortly after going viral.

Fast forward to 1889, the U.S. Navy recognized “The Star-Spangled Banner” for official use and, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the song be played at military and other appropriate functions. In 1918, a bill was introduced in Congress to officially recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem; however, that bill failed. The bill was introduced a total of six times until 1929 after which, in 1930, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) started a petition to recognize the song as the national anthem.

It’s reported that approximately five million people signed the petition which was subsequently presented to the House of Representatives in January 1930. A floor vote approved the bill in the House later that year and the Senate passed the bill in March 1931. On March 3, 1931, President Hoover signed the bill into law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem in the United States of America.

The Star-Spangled Banner performed by the U.S. Army Band

Today is National Anthem Day

So, how can you commemorate National Anthem Day? There are a few ways to do so:

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail invites visitors to explore the trail from wherever they are!
  1. Learn the lyrics to the National Anthem. If you haven’t taken the time to check out the words of the anthem, take the day to look them over so you can show your solidarity when the occasion comes up for you to sing. But, really, it’s only appropriate that Americans know the words to the National Anthem.
  2. Check out the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. Due to the pandemic, travel is an issue for most. Fortunately, you can visit the 560-mile trail virtually here. You can read more about the history of the trail and visit the trail spots noting key events that led to the Battle of Baltimore, Key’s inspiration for the National Anthem.
  3. Display your Star-Spangled Banner. If you’re already displaying the flag, you’re good to go but, if not, take the day to show the Colors to mark National Anthem Day. There are rules and guidelines for displaying the Flag, you can find them here.
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