As the dawn's early light rose over Baltimore 200 years ago, an unknown amateur poet was so moved by America's stand against relentless British bombing, he began to compose a poem.
It took more than 100 years for that poem to officially become the United State's national anthem. Today, Francis Scott Keys' "The Star-Spangled Banner" celebrates its 200th anniversary.
How much do you know about the ode to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Check out these five things you must know about our national anthem:
#1: Francis Scott Key Had a Different Title For The Tune
When Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 1814—aboard a British war ship as the Brits unsuccessfully attacked Ft. McHenry—newspapers published it as "Defence of Fort M'Henry." It wasn't until November that a music store changed the name to "The Star-Spangled Banner," which stuck.
#2: It's Longer Than You Think
At ball games, we wrap up singing after just one verse. But Key penned four of them. The others go into more detail of the battle that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner." Let's face it, we're kind of missing out when we don't sing of "Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes" or "Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution." (Key really didn't like the British, apparently.)
Every verse ends with "O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!" Check out the full lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner."
#3: The Star-Spangled Banner Didn't Make It Through The Perilous Fight
After a night-long British bombardment, seeing the American flag at Ft. McHenry bowled Key over. But the flag we celebrated as the Star-Spangled Banner was never in that now-famous battle.
Maj. George Armistead had commissioned two flags from local woman Mary Pickersgill when he commanded Ft. McHenry. The smaller "storm flag" actually flew the night of the battle because of the foul weather. It's lost to history. The large garrison flag—the one the Smithsonian painstakingly preserves in Washington, D.C.—didn't fly until the next morning.
But, to be fair, that's the flag Key saw rise over Ft. McHenry, signaling that American troops hadn't given up Baltimore.
#4: Tune Sticks It To British Drinkers
"The Star-Spangled Banner" isn't just a proverbial middle finger to the British in words only. When Key's poem became a song, the melody came from a British pub song. "To Anacreon in Heaven." There's evidence Key had that song in mind, as the lyrics fit perfectly with the song's melody.
#5: The National Anthem's Long Road
Although Sept. 14 is "The Star-Spangled Banner"'s 200th anniversary, Key never saw his creation become the national anthem. The War of 1812 inspired plenty of patriotic songs vying for official status. Can you imagine if "Yankee Doodle Dandy" won out?
"The Star-Spangled Banner" remained a rousing patriotic song, sung by Union troops in the Civil War. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared it the national anthem, but only for military ceremonies.
In 1931, after Congress failed 40 times before (some things never change), "The Star-Spangled Banner" finally became the official national anthem.