National Anthem Day on March 3 observes the songs nations around the world have adopted and chosen to represent their national identity. For America, that song is “The Star-Spangled Banner” and has a rich history to match the pomp and circumstance any national anthem should garner for the country it represents. Learn all about the fateful night which inspired our national anthem and find ways to celebrate it today.
History of National Anthem Day
Let’s take a step back in time to the evening of September 13, 1812. Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key found himself aboard a British sea vessel negotiating the release of Dr. William Beans, a prisoner of war accused of misleading the British troops. While Key’s negotiation was successful, the British troops would not allow him to disembark the ship out of fear he may disclose the Brit’s battle plans to American forces.
So, Key and Beans remained on the ship through the night witnessing the intense attack on Fort McHenry. Expecting American troops to have lost the battle, Key was astounded to see the American flag flying over Fort McHenry the next morning. The events of the evening ending in the triumphant flying of the American flag inspired Key to write a poem that ultimately became “The Star-Spangled Banner”, our national anthem.
By the early 1900s, there were several different versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” so President Woodrow Wilson asked the Bureau of Education to standardize it making one official version. The Bureau hired five musicians, including John Philip Sousa, to standardize the song which was first performed on December 5, 1917.
Finally, on March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional order into law making “The Star-Spangled Banner” America’s national anthem. National Anthem Day falls on March 3 annually commemorating the signing of the law.
National Anthem Day timeline
- March 3, 1931
President Herbert Hoover signed into law the Star-Spangled Banner as our National Anthem.
The first sporting event to play the National Anthem
The Star-Spangled Banner played during the 7th inning of game 1 of the 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.
Armed Forces acknowledge “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Benjamin F. Tracy ordered “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be the official tune when raising the Navy flag.
- September 14, 1814
Our National Anthem’s lyrics written
Francis Scott Key writes a poem that would eventually become the lyrics to our National Anthem after witnessing the Battle of Baltimore
National Anthem Day FAQs
Which military branch first used “The Star-Spangled Banner”?
The “Star-Spangled Banner” was first recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889 where it was played while raising the flag.
Whose Superbowl National Anthem performance was the best?
The top 5 most famous Super Bowl performances of the National Anthem are (5) Luther Vandross, (4) Kelly Clarkston, (3) Beyoncé, (2) Jennifer Hudson, and (1) Whitney Houston.
Are there rules for behavior while the National Anthem is played?
Yes, US Code suggests non-military individuals should stand with their right hand over their hearts, hats removed and military personnel should render the military salute with hats removed, if not in uniform; however, not following these suggestions is not considered a violation of the law.
National Anthem Day Activities
Learn the lyrics
Sporting events are more fun if you can sing along, or at least lip-sync, with your fellow Americans plus you may be spotted on TV or the jumbotron; but, really, it’s only appropriate that Americans know the words to our National Anthem.
Visit the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail
Connecting historical sites across Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, this 560-mile trail takes you over land and water noting key events that led to the Battle of Baltimore, Key’s inspiration for our National Anthem.
Display your Star-Spangled Banner
If you are not already flying your American flag throughout the year, take this opportunity to display it proudly and explain to your friends, family, and neighbors the significance of today.
5 Little Known Facts About Our National Anthem
It includes hard to hit notes
Much controversy surrounded the choice of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our National Anthem due to some common beliefs that the song is unsingable given the melody’s excessive range.
It was inspired by a garrison flag
The flag Keys saw flying after the battle was a garrison flag, specifically the Great Garrison Flag, having 15 stripes and 15 stars which was flown on Sundays, holidays, and other special occasions.
The original name changed
Before it became “The Star-Spangled Banner”, our National Anthem was titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry”.
It has more than one verse
While only the first verse is typically sung at events, the original song contains four verses with a fifth verse added 47 years later.
It was sung at Woodstock
In 1969, Jimi Hendrix sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and went on to sing his iconic version 60 more times over the next two years.
Why We Love National Anthem Day
It brings out individuality
The complexity of the song and difficulty to sing it has resulted in amazingly unique presentations of it; think celebrity performances at sporting events and how they put their own “spin” on their delivery of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
It bonds us in patriotism
When the National Anthem is played in public, it is for a celebratory or respectful reason which ignites a strong sense of patriotism. Singing it together bonds us in this display of patriotism.
It's a story of redemption
Key wrote a poem about the triumph of his country through a battle where victory did not seem imminent. His surprise to come out from a night of intense battle with the flag still flying is the story told in these lyrics and reminds us all we won the fight that fateful night!
National Anthem Day dates