How Did the US Get Their National Anthem?


Over the last two weeks, many of us heard the familiar strains of the US national anthem played numerous times as US athletes racked in forty-nine gold medals.  The refrain of “The Star Spangled Banner” reminded me of a Facebook conversation I saw over the July 4th holiday.

One of my friends admitted to disliking our national anthem.   She laid out several reasons:  the lyrics of the other 3 stanzas, the difficult vocal range of the music, and the overall theme.  She even joked that the song was written about something that could’ve been solved with a flashlight.

Her post reminded me of a story my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Stevenson, told us.  She claimed that while in high school, the teens of America voted on which song would become our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” or “America The Beautiful.”  I remember thinking how stupid they were at the time to choose “The Star Spangled Banner.”  My young mind appreciated the melodic strains of “America the Beautiful” so much more.

Try as I might, I’ve found nothing on the internet about this election.  The details of how this song became our national anthem are slight.  It was commonly used by the Navy in 1889 and President Woodrow Wilson recognized it as our national anthem in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1931 that a congressional resolution officially established it as the US national anthem.  Before 1931, several patriotic songs served the purpose of an anthem when needed. does mention that “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” ran a panel in their cartoon in 1929 stating that the US didn’t have a national anthem.  This created a flood of letters to congress asking that they establish one.  Could my teacher’s story stem from this?  Maybe, her classmates didn’t really choose the anthem but voiced their opinion in these letters.  I wish I knew.

Nevertheless, Key’s account of being detained on a British ship while they attacked Baltimore, his frustration, prayers, and concerns for his fellow countryman, and the glory of a sunrise revealing our flag still flying became the national anthem.  Over the years, I’ve come to love this song and often choke up over the sentiment.  Are there odd lyrics in the other stanzas?  Yes, if you don’t know their history.  One in particular refers to the slaves that did not win.  It turns out that the British enlisted many freed slaves in their army, and those slaves asked to be on the front lines of this attack.  From Key’s perspective, it rang of treason, so he gloried in their failure.

Over the years, the other stanzas have been left off due to their questionable nature.  We know the first verse, although some people still don’t get it right.

If anyone reading this recalls any other details of the high schoolers voting on this or remembers more of Mrs. Stevenson’s, of Morrison Elementary School, account please let me know.  Meanwhile, congratulations to the efforts of so many people who devote their lives for the love of competition and excellence.


8 thoughts on “How Did the US Get Their National Anthem?

  1. Barbara, I can’t help you with the vote for the National Anthem, but I can add one other comment regarding the very broad vocal range required to sing it. One singer (don’t remember who) postulated that the beauty of The Star Spangled Banner is that it takes a “nation to sing it.” It wasn’t intended to be sung by a single person.

    I’m a Military Brat and growing up on base we heard The Star Spangled Banner quite frequently. It was played before every movie shown in the base theater — and we all had to stand with our hands over our hearts as it played. I almost think we should return to a few of the ceremonies from my youth. Playing The Star Spangled Banner before all movies, when TV Stations shutdown at night (or midnight if they didn’t), and most importantly of all, reciting The Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning.

    Being associated with the military, even as a Brat, makes you realize that Freedom isn’t Free.

  2. Henry, I did find one other student of Mrs. Stevenson’s who remembered the story. Still don’t know how factual it is. I agree that we don’t sing the National Anthem as much anymore. When I was a kid, we sang it at the beginning of each school day, and we said the Pledge of Allegiance, AND The Lord’s Prayer. It’s too bad the kids of today don’t experience those same rituals.

  3. My grandma said that when she was in school in Bloomer, Wisconsin, in the late 1920s her class was asked to vote on the national anthem between the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America The Beautiful.”

  4. My mother, who was born in 1921, used to tell us kids that her grade school class in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, voted on the national anthem. I think she said there were more than two choices. I think “My County ‘Tis of Thee” was also on the ballot with “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”.

  5. My father, born in 1922 in New York City, also recalled being asked to vote for either the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or ‘America The Beautiful to become our national anthemm

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