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. The songs are usually based on a significant national event. What song 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!


What patriotic song do Americans often sing before baseball games and other sporting events?

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

Have you ever wondered where this song came from or why it is the national song of the United States? In this lesson, you will learn about the history of the United States’ National Anthem.

It all began with the War of 1812, that took place on American soil from 1812 to 1815. The physical battle between the United States and Great Britain ignited after the British had made attempts to restrict U.S. trade. One of the most famous battles of the war 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 prior to 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. 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 we now know 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.

Now that you know the history of the National Anthem, read the lyrics as Francis Scott Key wrote them below. You will notice the original song Francis Scott Key wrote is a little longer than what we hear at baseball games. Today, we typically only sing the first stanza, or group of lines, to help make it easier for people to remember:

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched 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.
Oh, 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! Oh 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 washed out their foul footsteps’ 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

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved 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

Discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • 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 on behalf of his or her country?

When you are finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to hear the song with music and to practice memorizing the National Anthem.

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