The History of ''The Star-Spangled Banner''

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12254

Most countries have a national song that inspires pride in their citizens. They are usually based on a significant national event. Which of these was written on the back of a letter by a prisoner?


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Watch the video below.

Image - Video

  • What is this patriotic song that Americans sing before basketball games and other sporting events?

Today, Americans often sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting and other events.

  • Have you ever wondered where this song came from or why it is the national song of the United States?

It all began with the War of 1812, which took place on American soil from 1812 to 1815.

The physical battle between the United States and Great Britain ignited after the British attempted to restrict U.S. trade. One of the war's most famous battles was fought at Fort McHenry, located in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor.

On September 13, 1814, the British navy attacked the fort in what is now known as the Battle of Baltimore. For 25 hours, the British ships launched gunfire and cannons at the American fort.

A few weeks before the Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, willingly boarded a British naval ship. Key wanted to persuade the British to release his friend, who had been captured and held prisoner.

The British agreed to free Key’s friend, but they had overheard information involving the attack on Fort McHenry, and the British would not let the men leave the ship until after the attack.

On the night of the battle, Key watched from the ship as the British pelted the American fort.

A view of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet

He later wrote that when night came, all he could see were red sparks and fire illuminating the night sky. He also wrote he was certain the Americans could not win the battle under the continuous British fire.

Surprisingly, when Key awoke the next morning, he saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry, signaling that the Americans had won the battle. He was so overwhelmed with pride and excitement that he wrote what is now known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the back of a letter.

After the Battle of Baltimore, the British released Key and his friend. Key showed the song he wrote to a commander at Fort McHenry. The commander felt inspired by Key’s words and had the song printed under the name, “Defense of Fort McHenry.”

This song was distributed to all the men at Fort McHenry. Soon, newspapers discovered the song, and it was printed throughout the United States as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sealing its place in history as the National Anthem.

cover of The Star Spangeled Banner music sheet

Now that you know the history of the National Anthem, read the lyrics as Francis Scott Key wrote them.

Notice the original song is a little longer than what you normally hear at events. Only the first stanza is usually sung, making it easier to remember.

The Star-Spangled Banner

  • O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
  • What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
  • Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
  • O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
  • And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
  • Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
  • O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
  • O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
  • On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
  • Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
  • What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
  • As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
  • Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
  • In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
  • ’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
  • O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
  • And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
  • That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
  • A home and a Country should leave us no more?
  • Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
  • No refuge could save the hireling and slave
  • From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
  • And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
  • O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
  • O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
  • Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
  • Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
  • Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
  • Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
  • And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,”
  • And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
  • O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Consider the following questions.

  • How do the song lyrics show pride in one’s country?
  • How do the song lyrics convey Francis Scott Key’s experience in September 1814?
  • How might these lyrics inspire an American who is fighting a war for their country?

Move to the Got It? section to hear the song with music and to practice memorizing the National Anthem.

Image - Button Next