Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key’s Famous “Lyrics” Celebrate Their 90th Anniversary As the National Anthem

It is a challenge to connect with pivotal moments in our history. Circumstances were vastly different, and life has changed dramatically in just the past century. One way to gain the unique perspective of days gone by is to read the captivating articles of archived newspapers.

Richmond Enquirer, September 1814

One event with a timely perspective – its 90th anniversary – is the official legislation to make The Star Spangled Banner the official national anthem. It was originally written as a poem under extraordinary circumstances by Francis Scott Key. To gain a deeper understanding of Key’s words, it is essential to travel back to 1814. 

Several newspapers of the time, including the Richmond Enquirer, heralded the story. The British sailed into Baltimore Harbor on September 13, 1814, with plans to take the city. Their only hurdle…Fort McHenry.

The Fort commissioned an enormous American flag and raised it as a distraction for the British Navy. It measured a whopping 30 feet x 42 feet.

Correspondence from Baltimore shared what little information was available to keep citizens abreast of the rising tension citing “the moment of suspense is awful.” Meanwhile, a lawyer from Washington named Francis Key was rowing out to the British flagship, as the British had captured his friend, and Key was to negotiate for his release.

Determined not to give up any intelligence and jeopardize their position, the British commander refused to let Key or any of his party leave the flagship. Instead, they made Key stand on the ship’s deck and witness the bombardment and destruction of Fort McHenry. As he stood, feeling helpless, he watched bombs reign down on the Fort that housed his friends. The sun went down, and he lost hope. 

Bombs hurtled between Fort McHenry and the British ships for 25 hours straight, and as the sun rose over the bay the following morning, Key waited anxiously to see if his friends had survived the night. Looking towards the Fort, the mist parted, and there was the giant flag proudly waving, signifying to him that his countrymen had triumphed against the mighty force of the British. The emotion, relief, and patriotism prompted Key to pen the words for The Star Spangled Banner.

Blockton News, May 1931

Over the next century, those powerful words became the lyrics of the unofficial anthem of the United States. There were articles that depicted a controversy between The Star Spangled Banner and America by Samuel Francis Smith, legislation for The Star Spangled Banner to be sung in schools, even an article from 1861 telling the origin of the national anthem!

Finally, in May of 1931, news of the official national anthem broke. After more than 100 years, The Star Spangled Banner would be an immortal American icon. 

Our forefathers have incredible stories; however, it is not until we get lost in their world that we truly appreciate them. Find out about historical events, even your family’s history, through the newspapers your ancestors read. Sign up for your free trial today at

Start Free Trial