The Grand Union Flag


Names:      The Grand Union Flag, Continental Colors; Congress Flag; Cambridge Flag; First Navy Ensign

Adopted:   January 2, 1776

Design:      Thirteen horizontal stripes alternating red and white; in the canton, the British Union Flag


The "Grand Union Flag" (also known as the "Continental Colours", the "Congress Flag", the "Cambridge Flag", and the "First Navy Ensign") is considered to be the first national flag of the United States of America – and previously, that of the United Colonies of North America – until 1777.


This flag consisted of alternating thirteen red and white stripes with theBritish Union Flag (Union Jack) – the variant prior to the inclusion of St. Patrick's cross for the 1801 unification of Ireland into the United Kingdom – in the canton.




By the end of 1775, during the first year of the American Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress operated as a de facto war government authorizing the creation of an Army, a Navy and even a Marine Corps. A new flag was required to represent the Congress and fledgling nation, initially the "United Colonies", with a banner distinct from the British Red Ensign flown from civilian and merchant vessels, the White Ensign of the King'sRoyal Navy, and the British Union flags carried by the King's army troops on land.


The American colonist's (Continental Colour) was first hoisted on the colonial warship USS Alfred, in the harbor on the western shore of the Delaware River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 3, 1775, by newly-appointed Lieutenant John Paul Jones of the formative Continental Navy. The event had been documented in letters to Congress and eyewitness accounts. The flag was used by the American Continental Army forces as both a naval ensign and garrison flag throughout 1776 and early 1777.


It is not known for certain when, or by whom, the design of the Continental Colors was created, though the flag could easily be produced by sewing white stripes onto the BritishRed Ensigns.[3] The "Alfred" flag has been credited to Margaret Manny.[4]


It was widely believed that the flag was raised by George Washington's Army on New Year's Day, 1776, at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now part of Somerville), near his headquarters at Cambridge Massachusetts, (across the Charles River to the north fromBoston), which was then surrounding and laying siege to the British forces then occupying the city, and that the flag was interpreted by British military observers in the city under commanding General Thomas Gage, (1719-1787), as a sign of surrender.  Some scholars dispute this traditional account, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was probably a British union flag.


The name "Grand Union" is contemporary to Reconstruction-era historians, having been first applied to the Continental Colors by George Preble in his 1872 History of the American Flag.


The design of the flag is strikingly similar to the flag of the British East India Company (EIC). Indeed, certain EIC designs in use since 1707 (when the canton was changed from the flag of England to that of the Kingdom of Great Britain) were nearly identical, though the number of stripes varied from 9 to 15.  That EIC flags were potentially well known by the American colonists has been the basis of a theory of the origin of the national flag's design.


The Flag Act of 1777 by the Continental Congress authorized a new official national flag of a design similar to that of the Colors, with thirteen stars (representing the thirteen States) on a field of blue replacing the British "Union Jack" flag in the canton. The resolution merely describes "a new constellation" for the arrangement of the white stars in the blue canton, so a number of designs were later interpreted and made with a circle of equal stars, another circle with one star in the center, and various designs of even or alternate horizontal rows of stars, and even the so-called "Bennington flag" fromBennington, Vermont which had the number "76" surmounted by an arch of 13 stars, later also becoming known in 1976 as the "Bicentennial Flag". The combined crosses in the British Union flag symbolized the union of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland; the symbolism of a union of equal parts which was retained in the new American flag as described in the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777 (later celebrated in American culture and history as "Flag Day").

The Betsy Ross Flag

The Betsy Ross flag is an early design of the flag of the United States, popularly — but very likely incorrectly — attributed to Betsy Ross, using the common motifs of alternating red-and-white striped field with five-pointed stars in a blue canton. The flag was designed during the American Revolution and features 13 stars to represent the original 13 colonies. The distinctive feature of the Ross flag is the arrangement of 5-pointed stars in a circle.


The Betsy Ross Story


Although this early version of an American flag is now commonly called the "Betsy Ross Flag," the claim by her descendants that Betsy Ross contributed to this design is a matter of some dispute, and it is not accepted by modern American scholars and vexillologists.


The National Museum of American History notes that the story first entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 Centennial Exposition celebrations.  In 1870, Ross's grandson, William J. Canby, presented a paper to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in which he claimed that his grandmother had "made with her hands the first flag" of the United States.  Canby said he first obtained this information from his aunt Clarissa Sydney (Claypoole) Wilson in 1857, twenty years after Betsy Ross's death. Canby dates the historic episode based on Washington's journey to Philadelphia, in late spring 1776, a year before Congress passed the Flag Act.

In the 2008 book The Star-Spangled Banner: The Making of an American Icon, Smithsonian experts point out that Canby's recounting of the event appealed to Americans eager for stories about the revolution and its heroes and heroines. Betsy Ross was promoted as a patriotic role model for young girls and a symbol of women's contributions to American history.   Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich further explored this line of inquiry in a 2007 article, "How Betsy Ross Became Famous: Oral Tradition, Nationalism, and the Invention of History."  Ross biographer Marla Miller points out, however, that even if one accepts Canby's presentation, Betsy Ross was merely one of several flag makers in Philadelphia, and her only contribution to the design was to change the 6-pointed stars to the easier 5-pointed stars.


According to the traditional account, the original flag was made in June 1776, when a small committee — including George Washington, Robert Morris and relative George Ross — visited Betsy and discussed the need for a new American flag. Betsy accepted the job to manufacture the flag, altering the committee's design by replacing the six-pointed stars with five-pointed stars.

Betsy Ross's story was published in 1870, 34 years after her death, by her only surviving grandson, William J. Canby, in a paper presented to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The paper included stories he had heard from family members throughout the years.


According to Canby's paper:

Sitting sewing in her shop one day with her girls around her, several gentlemen entered. She recognized one of these as the uncle of her deceased husband, Col. GEORGE ROSS, a delegate from Pennsylvania to Congress. She also knew the handsome form and features of the dignified, yet graceful and polite Commander in Chief, who, while he was yet COLONEL WASHINGTON had visited her shop both professionally and socially many times, (a friendship caused by her connection with the Ross family). They announced themselves as a committee of Congress, and stated that they had been appointed to prepare a flag, and asked her if she thought she could make one, to which she replied, with her usual modesty and self-reliance, that "she did not know but she could try; she had never made one but if the pattern were shown to her she had no doubt of her ability to do it." The committee was shown into her back parlor, the room back of the shop, and Col. Ross produced a drawing, roughly made, of the proposed flag. It was defective to the clever eye of Mrs. Ross and unsymmetrical, and she offered suggestions which Washington and the committee readily approved.


What all these suggestions were we cannot definitely determine, but they were of sufficient importance to involve an alteration and re-drawing of the design, which was then and there done by General George Washington, in pencil, in her back parlor. One of the alterations had reference to the shape of the stars. In the drawing, they were made with six points.


Mrs. Ross at once said that this was wrong; the stars should be five-pointed; they were aware of that, but thought there would be some difficulty in making a five-pointed star. "Nothing easier" was her prompt reply and folding a piece of paper in the proper manner, with one clip of her ready scissors she quickly displayed to their astonished vision the five-pointed star; which accordingly took its place in the national standard. General Washington was the active one in making the design, the others having little or nothing to do with it. When it was completed, it was given to William Barrett, painter, to paint. ...

The gentleman drew out of a chest an old ship's color, which he loaned her to show her how the sewing was done, and also the drawing painted by Barrett. Other designs had been prepared by the committee and one or two of them were placed in the hands of other seamstresses to be made. Betsy Ross went diligently to work upon her flag, carefully examining the peculiar stitch in the old ship's color, which had been given her as a specimen, and recognizing, with the eye of a good mechanic, its important characteristics, strength, and elasticity.

The flag was soon finished, and Betsy returned it, the first 'Star Spangled Banner' that ever floated upon the breeze, to her employer. It was run up to the peak of one of his ships lying at the wharf and received the unanimous approval of the committee and of a little group of bystanders looking on, and the same day was carried into the State House and laid before Congress, with a report from the committee.


The next day Col. Ross called upon Betsy, and informed her that her work had been approved and her flag adopted; and, he now requested her to turn her whole attention to the manufacture of flags, and gave her an unlimited order for as many as she could make. 

Mrs. Ross was now effectively set up in the business of flag and color making for the government; through all her afterlife, which was a long, useful and eventful one, she "never knew what it was," to use her own expression, "to want employment," this business (flag-making for the government) remaining with her and in her family for many years.

The "Ross Question"

This 1779 portrait of George Washington by painter Charles Willson Peale features a flag with 13-stars arranged in a circle.

Canby's account has been the source of some debate. It is generally regarded as being neither proven nor disproven, and any evidence that may have once existed has been lost.  It is worth pointing out that while modern lore may enhance the details of her story, Betsy Ross never claimed any contribution to the flag design except for the five-pointed star, which was simply easier for her to make.  


The main reason historians and flag experts do not believe that Betsy Ross designed or sewed the first American flag is a lack of historical evidence and documentation to support her story:


  • No records show that the Continental Congress had a committee to design the national flag in the spring of 1776.

  • Although George Washington had been a member of the Continental Congress, he had assumed the position of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, so it would be unlikely that he would have headed a congressional committee in 1776. However, he did serve on a committee with John Ross' uncle George Read in 1776 (see below).

  • There is no evidence to show that Betsy Ross and George Washington knew each other, or that George Washington was ever in her shop. However, George Ross and George Washington were both acquaintances of George Read in 1776, and he had frequent communication with both parties.

  • In letters and diaries that have surfaced, neither George Washington, Col. Ross, Robert Morris, nor any other member of Congress mentioned anything about a national flag in 1776. Francis Hopkinson, a treasurer of loans and a consultant to the second congressional committee, has a naval design from 1780 which was clearly a derivative of earlier designs.

  • The Flag Resolution of 1777 was the first documented meeting, discussion, or debate by Congress about a national flag.

  • It is not unusual that Ross, an upholsterer, would have been paid to sew flags. There was a sudden and urgent need for them, and other Philadelphia upholsterers were also paid to sew flags in 1777 and years following.


Supporters of the Ross story make the following arguments:


  • Robert Morris was a business partner of John Ross, Betsy's cousin by marriage. He also had served with George Ross on the Marine Committee.

  • George Washington was in Philadelphia in Spring 1776, where he served on a committee with John Ross' uncle George Read, and Congress approved $50,000 for the acquisition of tents and "sundry articles" for the Continental Army.

  • On May 29, 1777, Betsy Ross was paid a large sum of money from the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making flags.

  • Morris was on the Marine Committee at the time the flag vote was taken as part of Marine Committee business.

  • Rachel Fletcher, Betsy Ross's daughter, gave an affidavit to the Betsy Ross story.

  • A painting which might be dated 1851 by Ellie Wheeler, allegedly the daughter of Thomas Sully, shows Betsy Ross sewing the flag.(online at If the painting is authentic and the date correct, the story was known nearly 20 years before Canby's presentation to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


The "First Flag"

The question "Who made the first American flag?" can only be given speculative answers. There are at least 17 flag makers and upholsterers who worked in Philadelphia during the time the flag was made. Margaret Manny is thought to have made the first Continental Colors (or Grand Union Flag), but there is no evidence to prove she also made the Stars and Stripes. Other flag makers of that period include Rebecca Young, Anne King, Cornelia Bridges, and flag painter William Barrett. Hugh Stewart sold a "flag of the United Colonies" to the Committee of Safety, and William Alliborne was one of the first to manufacture United States ensigns.  Any flag maker in Philadelphia could have sewn the first American flag. According to Canby, there were other variations of the flag being made at the same time Ross was sewing the design that would carry her name. If true, there may not be one "first" flag, but many.


As late as 1779, the War Board of Continental Congress had still not settled on what the Standard of the United States should look like. The committee sent a letter to General Washington asking his opinion and submitting a design that included the serpent, as well as a number corresponding to the state which flew the flag.


Francis Hopkinson is often given credit for the Betsy Ross design, as well as other 13-star arrangements. The Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, establishing the first congressional standard for official United States ensigns. The shape and arrangement of the stars is not mentioned—there were variations—but the legal description gives the Ross flag legitimacy.

Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.


In a 1780 letter to the Continental Board of Admiralty dealing with the Great Seal, Hopkinson mentioned patriotic designs he created in the past few years including "the Flag of the United States of America." He asked for compensation for his designs, but his claim was rejected on the basis that others also contributed to the design. Ross Biographer Marla Miller asserts that the question of Betsy Ross' involvement in the flag should not be one of design, but of production. Even so, history researchers must accept that the United States flag evolved, and did not have one designer. "The flag, like the Revolution it represents, was the work of many hands."




To add to the mystery surrounding the first American flag, experts can only guess the reason Congress chose stripes, stars, and the colors red, white, and blue for the flag. Historians and experts discredit the common theory that the stripes and five-pointed stars derived from the Washington family coat of arms.   While this theory adds to Washington's legendary involvement in the development of the first flag, no evidence—other than the obvious one that his coat of arms, like the Stars and Stripes, has stars and stripes in it—exists to show any connection between the two. Washington was aware that "most admire ... the trappings of elevated office," but for himself claimed "To me there is nothing in it."   However, he frequently used (for example, as his bookplate) his family coat of arms with three five-pointed red stars and three red-and-white stripes, on which is based the flag of the District of Columbia. The use of red and blue in flags at this time in history may derive from the relative fastness of the dyes indigo and cochineal, providing blue and red colors respectively, as aniline dyes were unknown.


The true meaning of the symbols of the flag may be tied to ancient history. Stars were a device representing man's desire to achieve greatness. The common metaphor"reaching for the stars" developed from this idea. Stars of various shapes were also important symbols in European heraldry, and stars appears in colonial flags as early as 1676.   Another possibility may come from Freemasonry. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Robert Livingston, Paul Revere, and other important people of that period belonged to the fraternal order. Some may think they may have influenced the inclusion of stars in the American flag, however, stars of this type, although sometimes used as a decorative device, like pyramids, were not an important icon in Freemasonry.


Stars carried various meanings in European heraldry, differing with the shape and number of points. Although early American flags featured stars with various numbers of points, the five-pointed star is the defining feature of the Betsy Ross design, and became the norm on Navy Ensigns. This may have been simply because five-pointed stars were more clearly defined from a distance.


The usage of stripes in the flag may be linked to two pre-existing flags. A 1765 Sons of Liberty flag flown in Boston had nine red and white stripes, and a flag used by CaptainAbraham Markoe's Philadelphia Light Horse Troop in 1775 had 13 blue and silver stripes.  One or both of these flags likely influenced the design of the American flag.

The most logical explanation for the colors of the American flag is that it was modeled after the first unofficial American flag, the Grand Union Flag. In turn the Grand Union Flag was probably designed using the colors of Great Britain's Union Jack. The colors of the Great Seal are the same as the colors in the American flag. To attribute meaning to these colors, Charles Thomson, who helped design the Great Seal, reported to Congress that "White signifies purity and innocence. Red hardiness and valor and Blue... signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice."


There is a possibility that the circular star configuration of the Betsy Ross Flag was inspired by the circular star configuration as a halo in a painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo called "The Immaculate Conception", dated around 1767 to 1769. It is a painting in the PRADO collection in Spain. Francis Hopkinson had spent time with a friend named Benjamin West, an American painter who had studied painting in Italy during the time when Giovanni Battista was a sensation both at home and abroad.

Betsy Ross 1777, a ca. 1920 depiction by artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris of Ross showing Gen. George Washington (seated, left), Robert Morrisand George Ross how she cut the revised five-pointed stars for the flag.

From 13 to 50 Stars,

The 7 Red & 6 White Stripes

Have Stayed The Same



The current official U.S. flag is a 50 star flag, born of the need for a more practical design to accommodate new states entering the union. On April 4, 1818, Congress established the number of stripes at seven red and six white, and provided the addition of one star for each new state. The thirteen stripes represent the original 13 colonies. The 50 star flag has been in use since July 4, 1960 when Hawaii officially joined the union.

In the first years of the Revolutionary War, America fought under many flags. One of these flags, called the Grand Union, flew over George Washington's headquarters near Boston. It was the first American flag to be officially recognized by another country.

On November 16, 1776, the American warship, Andrew Doria, saluted a Dutch fort in the West Indies and was saluted in return. This brought a measure of international recognition to the United Colonies.

A flag with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes received its first salute from another country on February 14, 1778, when French vessels in Quiberon Bay, France, saluted John Paul Jones and his ship, "The Ranger."

No one positively knows who designed the first Stars and Stripes, or who made the first flag. Soon after the flag was adopted by our new government, Congressman Francis Hopkinson claimed that he had designed it. Some historians believe that Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, made the first U.S. flag.

On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag of the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

 For more interesting history and flags, click below




Interesting Factoids


  1. This list does not account for the secession of 11 states --Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas -- during the Civil War to form the Confederate States of America, nor for the subsequent restoration of those states to the Union, or each state's "readmission to representation in Congress" after the war, as the federal government does not give legal recognition to their having left the Union. Also, although the Constitution is silent on the question of whether states have the power to leave, or secede from, the Union, the Supreme Court, in Texas v. White (1869), held that a state cannot unilaterally do so.

  2. Also known as the "Three Lower Counties Upon Delaware." Delaware became a state on June 15, 1776, when the Delaware Assembly formally adopted a resolution declaring an end to Delaware's status as a colony of Great Britain and establishing the three counties as an independent state under the authority of "the Government of the Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex Upon Delaware."

  3. Between 1749 and 1764 the provincial governor of New Hampshire, Benning Wentworth, issued approximately 135 grants for unoccupied land claimed by New Hampshire west of the Connecticut River (in what is today southern Vermont), territory that was also claimed by New York. The resulting dispute led to the rise of the Green Mountain Boys and the later establishment of the Vermont Republic. New Hampshire's claim upon the land was extinguished in 1764 by royal order of George III, and in 1790 the State of New York ceded its New Hampshire Grants claim to Vermont for 30,000 Dollars.

  4. The Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation on December 18, 1789 separating its "District of Kentucky" from the rest of the State and approving its statehood.

  5. JThe exact date upon which Ohio became a state is unclear. On April 30, 1802 the 7th Congress had passed an act "authorizing the inhabitants of Ohio to form a Constitution and state government, and admission of Ohio into the Union." (Sess. 1, ch. 40, 2 Stat. 173) On February 19, 1803 the same Congress passed an act "providing for the execution of the laws of the United States in the State of Ohio." (Sess. 2, ch. 7, 2 Stat. 201) Neither act, however, set a formal date of statehood. An official statehood date for Ohio was not set until 1953, when the 83rd Congress passed a Joint resolution "for admitting the State of Ohio into the Union", (Pub.L. 83–204, 67 Stat. 407, enacted August 7, 1953) which designated March 1, 1803, as that date.

  6. The Massachusetts General Court passed enabling legislation on June 19, 1819 separating the "District of Maine" from the rest of the State (an action approved by the voters in Maine on July 19, 1819 by 17,001 to 7,132); then, on February 25, 1820, passed a follow-up measure officially accepting the fact of Maine's imminent statehood.[16]

  7. On May 13, 1862, the General Assembly of the Restored Government of Virginia passed an act granting permission for creation of West Virginia.  Later, by its ruling in Virginia v. West Virginia (1871), the U.S. Supreme Court implicitly ratified the secession of West Virginia from Virginia.

  8. When President Benjamin Harrison signed the statehood proclamations for North and South Dakota he shuffled the papers on his desk and covered up all but the signature line of the documents. No one knows which state he signed into existence first. North Dakota's proclamation was published first in the Statutes at Large, as it is first in alphabetical order.

  9. Brought into existence within moments of each other on the same day, North and South Dakota are the nation's only twin-born states.

This article is about the national anthem of the United States. For the flag that flew over Fort McHenry, see Star-Spangled Banner (flag). For the present flag, see flag of the United States.

The Star-Spangled Banner

One of two surviving copies of the 1814 broadside printing of the "Defence of Fort McHenry", a poem that later became the lyrics of the national anthem of the United States.

National Anthem of the United States

Lyrics         Francis Scott Key, 1814

Music        John Stafford Smith, 1780

Adopted   1931


"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.


The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "To Anacreon in Heaven" (or "The Anacreontic Song"), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it soon became a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one octave and one fifth (a semitone more than an octave and a half), it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.


"The Star-Spangled Banner" was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.


Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom. "Hail, Columbia" served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", whose melody is identical to "God Save the Queen", the British national anthem, also served as a de facto anthem.  Following the War of 1812 and subsequent American wars, other songs emerged to compete for popularity at public events, among them "The Star-Spangled Banner."





The Star-Spangled Banner, or the Great Garrison Flag




In Baltimore's preparation for an expected attack on the city, Fort McHenry was made ready to defend the city's harbor. When Major George Armistead expressed a desire for a very large flag to fly over the fort, General John S. Stricker and Commodore Joshua Barney placed an order with a prominent Baltimorean flagmaker for two oversized American Flags. The larger of the two flags would be the Great Garrison Flag, the largest battle flag ever flown at the time. The smaller of the two flags would be the Storm Flag, to be more durable and less prone to fouling in inclement weather.

Available documentation shows that this flag was sewn by local flagmaker Mary Young Pickersgill under a government commission in 1813 at a cost of $405.90 (equivalent to $4,976 in 2016). George Armistead, the commander of Fort McHenry, specified "a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance."


Mary Pickersgill stitched the flag from a combination of cotton and dyed English wool bunting, assisted by her daughter, two nieces, and an African American indentured servant. (Her elderly mother may also have helped.)The flag has fifteen horizontal red and white stripes, as well as fifteen white stars in the blue field. The two additional stars and stripes, approved by the United States Congress's Flag Act of 1794, represent Vermont and Kentucky's entrance into the Union. The stars are arranged in vertical rows, with five horizontal rows of stars, offset, each containing three stars. At the time, the practice of adding stripes (in addition to stars) with the induction of a new state had not yet been discontinued. 

The flag originally measured 30 by 42 feet (9.1 by 12.8 m). Each of the fifteen stripes is 2 feet (0.61 m) wide, and each of the stars measures about 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter. After the battle, the Armistead family occasionally gave away pieces of the flag as souvenirs and gifts;[8] this cutting, along with deterioration from continued use, removed several feet of fabric from the flag's fly end, and it now measures 30 by 34 feet (9.1 by 10.4 m). The flag currently has only fourteen stars—the fifteenth star was similarly given as a gift, but its recipient and current whereabouts are unknown.


The Flag was flown over the fort when 5,000 British soldiers and a fleet of 19 ships attacked Baltimore on September 12, 1814. The bombardment turned to Fort McHenry on the evening of September 13, and continuous shelling occurred for 25 hours under heavy rain. When the British ships were unable to pass the fort and penetrate the harbor, the attack was ended, and on the morning of September 14, when the battered flag still flew above the ramparts, it was clear that Fort McHenry remained in American hands. This revelation was famously captured in poetry by Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet. Being held by the British on a truce ship in the Patapsco River, Key observed the battle from afar. When he saw the Garrison Flag still flying at dawn of the morning of the 14th, he composed a poem he originally titled Defiance of Ft. McHenry (though some accounts hold Defense of Fort McHenry). The poem would be put to the music of a common tune, retitled The Star-Spangled Banner, and a portion of it would later be adopted as the United States National Anthem. Since its arrival at the Smithsonian, the flag has undergone multiple preservation efforts.

Scrap sold at auction, November 2011

A 2-inch by 5-inch scrap of the flag - white and red, with a seam down the middle - was sold at auction in Dallas, TX on November 30, 2011, for $38,837: the snippet was, presumably, cut from the famous flag as a souvenir in the mid-19th century. The framed remnant came with a faded, hand-written note attesting it was "A piece of the Flag which floated over Fort McHenry at the time of the bombardment when Key's (sic) composed the Song of the Star Spangled Banner, presented by Sam Beth Cohen."

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The flag that flew during that episode in history became a significant artifact. It remained in the possession of Major Armistead, who was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel, and his family for many years. Eben Appleton, Colonel Armistead's grandson, inherited the flag in 1878. In 1907, he lent it to the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1912 it was made a formal gift. Today it is permanently housed in the National Museum of American History, one of the Smithsonian Institution museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.The flag was given to the museum in 1912 and has undergone multiple restoration efforts[12] after being originally restored by Amelia Fowler in 1914.

Due to environmental and light damage, a four-phase restoration project began in May 1999. In the first phase, the team removed the linen support backing that was attached to the flag during the 1914 restoration. The second phase consisted of the most comprehensive, detailed examination of the condition and construction of the Star-Spangled Banner to date, which provided critical information for later work. This included scientific studies with infrared spectrometry, electron microscopy, mechanical testing, and determination of amino acid content by a New Zealand scientist, and infrared imaging by a NASA scientist. Planning and executing a cleaning treatment for the flag following scientific analysis was the third phase. In the fourth and final phase of the project, curators, scientists, and conservators developed a long-term preservation plan.

Following the reopening of the National Museum of American History on November 21, 2008, the flag is now on display in a two-story display chamber that allows it to lie at a 10-degree angle in dim light. The Smithsonian has created a permanent exhibition to document the flag's history and significance, called "The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem". Visitors are allowed a clear view of the flag, while it remains protected in a controlled environment.

The National Museum of American History produced an online exhibition in conjunction with the reopening of Flag Hall in 2008. An interactive component allows site visitors to closely explore features of the flag in detail, download an audio-descriptive tour of the exhibition for the visually-impaired, and hear the song performed on original instruments from the National Museum of American History's collection.

How The Star Spangled Banner

Got To Be Played Before Every Sporting Event


Cubs vs Red Sox

1918 World Series:

A Tradition is Born


by JOE MAGENNIS on MAY 21, 2011

Baseball Fan Robert Harris‘ submission to -- reprinted with permision.



We sometimes take our traditions for granted and fail to recognize the originator of the idea.  We thank Robert for reminding us, especially on this special weekend of inter-league play. 


This weekend, an interleague series will recall possibly the most unique World Series ever played, the 1918 meeting between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.


It’s true that these two teams played each other in Wrigley Field back in 2005. This was actually the first time the Red Sox ever visited Wrigley, since the 1918 Series was played in the old Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South side (how the times have changed!) But the backstory for this particular series is worth revisiting.


The United States had entered into the European war in 1917. The iconic Uncle Sam poster declared “I Want You,” and the patriotic call to arms was “Work, or fight!” It was determined, by the Secretary of War, that playing baseball did not fall into the “work” category. And thus, on Labor Day, 1918, the baseball season came to an end after the teams had played anywhere between 124 and 131 games. It was the shortest season on record in the majors, and would remain so until the strike-shortened 1981 season lasted just 118 games.


The early stoppage in play meant that the World Series was played entirely in September, for the first and only time. It was also a very low-scoring affair, with just 19 runs scored in the six games. The Red Sox used only 4 pitchers for the Series, and the Cubs used a two-man starting rotation. In four of the six games, both starters pitched complete games. Baseball was clearly a different game back then.

But what makes this series noteworthy began with Game 1 in Chicago. Babe Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox, facing off against Hippo Vaughn. Big league rosters had been diluted during wartime, and Ruth became a player in transition. He had seen his pitching starts drop from 38 in 1917 to 19 for the 1918 season. Conversely, his plate appearances had nearly tripled, going from 142 in 1917 to 380 in 1918. Even so, he was still enough of a pitcher to get the nod for Game 1 of the World Series.


Throughout the game, a brass band played patriotic favorites in the stands. In the middle of the seventh inning (although there is no record that it was called the “seventh inning stretch” at the time, it was still a well-established baseball tradition) the band began playing Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The crowd immediately joined in and, as it was reported the next day, Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas removed his cap and stood at attention on the field. Ruth also paused during his warm-up tosses as the impromptu show of patriotism played itself out.  Boston won the game 1-0, and for each of the next two games, the song was again played during the seventh inning. And when the series shifted back to Boston, for game 4, a tradition was born.


The Red Sox were owned at the time by Harry Frazee, a Broadway producer with more than a dozen shows to his credit. Many of them only ran for a few performances, but he had enough success in the business to purchase a baseball team in 1916, at the age of 36.

Every Red Sox fan knows that Frazee later sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. But what Frazee lacked in baseball foresight, he made up for in show business savvy. He wanted to play the song, as had been done in Chicago, but with a new twist. Rather than burying the song within the game, Frazee decided to put it front and center by playing it before the start of the game. And so it was for each of the games played in Boston that year.


The song was officially declared the National Anthem by an act of Congress in 1931, and the tradition of playing the song before every game, whether played during the postseason or not, began decades later during World War II.  Even so, as I make my first visit to Fenway Park this month, I’ll think about Harry Frazee, a brass band, and the players and fans of the Cubs and Red Sox from many Septembers ago.