The Story of our National Anthem

“Will you please stand for the National Anthem?,” is a universal indicator heard all over the United States that an event will be starting soon. Everyone stands, removes their hats, places their hands on their hearts and faces the American flag. Following our nation’s anthem, the event begins.

The tradition of playing the National Anthem before sporting events comes from the World War I era, in 1918 during the first game of the World Series, between the Boston Red Sox and our very own, Chicago Cubs. Prior to this game, occasionally a live military band would play the National Anthem, but it was not a tradition yet.

In September of 1918, just a day before the first game in the World Series, a bomb exploded in Chicago, killing four and injuring more. The crowd reflected this devastation, as well as the upset from recent news that major league players would soon be drafted to enter World War I. To lighten spirits, the United States Navy band decided to play the Star-Spangled Banner in the middle of the game. During the live rendition, instead of ignoring the band, Red Sox player and Navy Seal, Fred Thomas stopped to salute the flag. Following suit, the crowd began to stand and place their right hands over their hearts and dedicate a moment of silence. Future games began to dedicate the time right before an event started for the playing of our National Anthem. 

The creation of the Star-Spangled Banner dates to the War of 1812. The United States entered into war with Great Britain in June 1812, following President James Madison’s orders. Originally, Great Britain was fighting against Napoleon’s France, but the United States entered the war due to the ongoing trade dispute over shipping goods to Europe, and the impressment of American sailors by the Royal British Navy, to join their fight against France. Great Britain’s forcible recruitment process solidified the United States’ opinion to enter the war. 

Two years into the war, the United States was outnumbered, depleted of resources, and dispirited. The new nation felt the toll of the war in many ways, as merchants made a bulk of their income through shipping overseas to Great Britain, France, and other European nations. At this point in the war, Great Britain was able to switch up their strategy and focus on the United States, as the war with Napoleon’s France had come to an end. After going after Washington D.C. and burning it down, Great Britain wanted to attack one of the United States’ largest ports, Fort McHenry in Baltimore. 

Unbeknownst to Great Britain, the American militia was anticipating the attack. There, battle broke out and Great Britain tried to destroy the port, but the American militia did not waver. Following the failed bombing of Fort McHenry, the American militia waved a large American flag at the battle site to signal the port was still standing. Francis Scott Key, an accomplished lawyer and up-and-coming poet, watched the battle and the militia wave the flag and decided to compose a poem based on the event. The poem was later put to music and released as “The Star-Spangled Banner”, formerly known as “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” in 1814. 

Although the national anthem was created in 1814, the song was only used for military ceremonies. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order that designated the Star-Spangled Banner as our nation’s anthem. To further codify President Wilson’s order, in 1931, Congress passed a joint resolution making it official. 

Today, the Star-Spangled Banner is a nation-wide tradition that is played before sporting events, graduation ceremonies, and other large gatherings to symbolize our appreciation for the military men and women that continue to fight for our nation.