The Star-Spangled Banner national anthem is written about and named after - well the Star-Spangled Banner. One can still see this most famous and legendary of flags in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The Star-Spangled Banner is without a doubt, one of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History's most treasured artifacts, and great care is taken to preserve the flag.
The Smithsonian museum is one of the great Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. that everyone should visit. All flags are just colored pieces of cloth that symbolize an idea and no flag has come to symbolize the American national pride and patriotism more than this one.
The Tale of Two Flags
The commander of Fort McHenry was Major George Armistead. He commissioned Mary Pickersgill (a Baltimore flag maker) to make two new flags for the fort. A smaller storm flag and a larger garrison flag - the larger one became the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The flag was stitched together from a combination of cotton and dyed English wool bunting by Mary Pickersgill and her female relatives and an indentured black servant. It was made in Baltimore in July-August 1813.
At the start of the battle with the British, it wasn't the Star-Spangled Banner flying. It was the larger flag hoisted over Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14, 1814, to signal American victory over the British in the Battle of Baltimore. It was this sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
- Smaller Storm Flag: 17 by 25 feet
- Larger Garrison Flag: 30 by 42 Feet
Original Cost Of The Flags:
- Storm Flag: $168.54
- Garrison Flag: $405.90
The reason why the smaller storm flag was flying at the time of the Battle of Baltimore was that the British attack had coincided with a heavy rainstorm. The smaller storm flag was later lost and it is not known if any part of it survives today.
What To Know About The Star-Spangled Banner (Flag)
The flag has (or had) fifteen stars. These represented the thirteen original colonies of the nation, plus the states of Vermont and Kentucky who had entered the union since then. Today it has only fourteen stars as one cut out.
- Second Flag Act: Approved by Congress on January 13, 1794 - Updated The Flag To Reflect The Admission of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792) Into The Union
- Third Flag Act: In 1818 Reduced the Number Of Stripes Back To Thirteen To Honor The Thirteen Original Colonies Of The Union
The flag is also the only official American flag to have more than 13 stripes. The flag has 15 stripes also representing the new entrants into the Union. When the flag was made the practice of adding stripes to the flag had not yet been discontinued. Today the 50 stars on the US flag represent the 50 current states of the Union, while the 13 stripes represent the Original 13 founding colonies.
- Original size: 30 feet by 42 feet
- Current size: 30 feet by 34 feet
- Fifteen stars and fifteen stripes: One star has been cut out
The flag is massive with each star is about two feet in diameter and each stripe about 24 inches wide. As a garrison flag, its purpose was to be seen at great distances - it is even larger than the modern garrison flags used today by the Army (they have a standard size of 20 by 38 feet).
Battle Mememto, Preservation, And Exhibition
After the war, it was preserved by the Armistead family as a memento of the battle. Eventually, it was loaned to the Smithsonian Institution in 1907 and then gifted permanently in 1912.
- National Anthem: Star-Spangled Banner Made The Official National Anthem By President Herbert Hoover on March 3, 1931.
It has been exhibited at the National Museum of American History since 1964 (except for a long period of preservation work done in the 2000s). It is not destined to stay there for much longer as there are plans for a new permanent exhibition gallery underway.
- First loaned: To the Smithsonian Institution in 1907, converted to permanent gift in 1912
- Exhibited: At the National Museum of American History since 1964
- New Exhibition: Plans for new permanent exhibition gallery now underway
“It is always such a satisfaction to me to feel that the flag is just where it is, in possession for all time of the very best custodian, where it is beautifully displayed and can be conveniently seen by so many people.”
Eben Appleton, Armistead’s grandson (Who Gifted The Flag to The Museum)
Today there are some relics or snipping of the flag around as well. The Armistead family received frequent requests for pieces of their flag and gave pieces of it to veterans, government officials, and other honored citizens.
If in the Chesapeake region, don't forget to see Virginia's informative Historic Triangle of the Commonwealth's colonial and Independence period.