Who made the Star Spangled Banner flag

How the Americans got their national anthem

A piece of national identity in the USA turns 200 years old. The text of the national anthem was written on September 14, 1814 - in a theater of war when the cannons finally fell silent.

At the entrance to the port of the city of Baltimore is one of the most important scenes in the history of the United States: star-shaped, barely two stories high, almost embedded in the landscape and surrounded by numerous old cannons. It is a small fortress, Fort McHenry, a scene of American identity-finding, as there are few comparable: the Statue of Liberty, the battlefield of Gettysburg, the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. An episode took place here 200 years ago, which is now remembered in numerous documentaries, in ceremonies and in so-called re-enactments. It was the hour of birth of the American national anthem.

Independence under threat

In September 1814 the still young United States was at war with the former mother country England. The so-called War of 1812 had been raging for two years, and things weren't looking good for Americans. It broke out mainly because Great Britain, which ruled the seas, repeatedly attacked the trade of neutral nations in the fight against Napoleon and regularly forced seamen from American ships into the service of its own fleet. The war was also a result of the slow interstate communication: when the government of President James Madison threw the gauntlet on the world power in the summer of 1812, little one suspected that most disputes had just been settled through diplomatic channels - the news crossed over to high Lake.

In August 1814, a British force entered Chesapeake Bay and landed troops, which penetrated into the capital Washington and set fire to the Capitol and the official residence of the President. Baltimore was the next target of the world's most powerful military power - what would happen if that city too were conquered? Some call the "War of 1812" the second American War of Independence. In order to take Baltimore, however, the overcoming of Fort McHenry was inevitable, as it monitored the access to the port and the city from the sea side. The British fleet gathered for the bombardment within firing range of the small fortress.

There was a guest on one of the British warships: the lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key. He had come to negotiate with the British about the release of some American prisoners. The enemy's officers - each treated like gentlemen - "asked" Key politely on September 13, 1814, to stay with them a little longer. The American had seen too much of the preparations for the battle that they did not want to be allowed to return to his family before the conquest of Fort McHenry. Key witnessed the bombardment that began in the evening, saw "the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air".

Look through the telescope

The British bombardment lasted all night, answered sporadically by the cannons at Fort McHenry, the location of which in the plumes of smoke was marked by an oversized flag (it can now be admired in dim light in the National Museum of American History in Washington). The next morning the guns finally fell silent, and Francis Scott Key was able to move unhindered on the deck of the warship on which he was briefly interned. He may have noticed that the British officers were a little more silent than the night before. With a telescope he tried to find out what was happening to Fort McHenry - and to his nation. Gradually, "by the dawn's early light", the morning mist cleared. After minutes of barely bearable uncertainty, the telescope finally gave him a clear picture: there, on the mast, was still blowing, “what we so proudly greeted in the last glimmer of dusk” (“what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming”) : the flag with the then 15 stripes and the 15 white stars.

The emotions overcame Key: Fort McHenry had withstood, the British would not conquer Baltimore, and they would not reign supreme over the Americans - only three months later peace was made. On the first piece of paper he could grab, Key wrote down his feelings in rhyme: “Oh, say how can you see. . . " . The poem soon became the melody of an English song, "To Anacreon in Heaven", set to music and an expression of patriotic exhilaration.

Only officially since 1931

The "War of 1812", which ended in a veritable draw, is considered a kind of embarrassing incident in American-British history. During the peace negotiations in the Flemish city of Ghent, one of the American diplomats, later President John Quincy Adams, expressed the hope that this would be the last peace settlement between the Americans and the British for all time. So far, the wish has come true, it was the beginning of a special friendship that dominated the 20th century and is still alive today.

In 1931, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was declared the official national anthem; today it is sung with fervor at every sporting event, at every ceremony and in every distant theater of war. It's as typically and unmistakably American as the fireworks on July 4th, like hot dogs and apple pie. It is not a peaceful ode to the beauty of home, such as Austria's “Land of Mountains, Land on the River” or the Swiss psalm, but a martial battle song similar to the “Marseillaise” of France. If you consider how often since then Americans in uniform have seen “bombs bursting in air” and “the rockets' red glare” in many parts of the world, one would like to describe Francis Scott Key and his poetry as prophetic.