The Star-Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key
During the night of September 13, 1814, the British fleet bombarded Fort McHenry in the harbor at Baltimore, Maryland. Francis Scott Key, a 34-year old lawyer-poet, watched the attack from the deck of a British prisoner-exchange ship. He had gone to seek the release of a friend but they were refused permission to go ashore until after the attack had been made.
As the battle ceased on the following morning, Key turned his telescope to the fort and saw that the American flag was still waving. The sight so inspired him that he pulled a letter from his pocket and began to write the poem which eventually was adopted as the national anthem of the United States -- "The Star Spangled Banner."
Key was returned to Baltimore and later that day took a room at a Baltimore tavern where he completed the poem. Years later, Key told a hometown audience in Frederick, Maryland:
Mary Pickersgill and the Flag House
The Flag House is located on the northwest corner of Albemarle and Pratt Streets in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the home of Mary Pickersgill from 1807 to 1857, and it was where she made the original "Star-Spangled Banner," which measured 30 by 42 feet. The stripes were two feet wide and the stars were two feet from point to point. Mrs. Pickersgill was paid $405.90 for her services. The flag was delivered to Fort McHenry on August 19, 1813, a full year before the Battle of Baltimore.
In 1876, Caroline Pickersgill Purdy wrote a letter to Georgiana Armistead Appleton, daughter of the Fort McHenry Commandant, in which she recounted the details of the making of the flag. Caroline wrote:
The flag bears the autograph of Lt. Col. George Armistead as well as the date of the British bombardment. The flag remained in the Armistead family for many years until it was loaned to the Smithsonian for an official display in 1907. On December 19, 1912, it was donated to the Smithsonian where it is now on permanent exhibit. In 1914, much-needed preservative work was done on the flag by Mrs. Amelia Fowler and several other restoration experts. Although the flag was reduced in size in order to repair it, the reinforcement technique used has preserved its existence.
The Flag House is a National Historic Landmark, and is operated by an independent non-profit association. The flag is flown over the house 24 hours a day.
Note: Our information on the history and traditions of the American flag is based on primary source materials from the Federal Consumer Information Center.