Star-Spangled Banner $5 Coin
The five-dollar gold coin we'll look at this month is part of a two-coin set that honors the Star-Spangled Banner...both the song and the flag on which the song is based. Did you know that the song's writer had one very specific American flag in mind?
The flag was hand-sewn in 1813 by Mary Pickersgill and her helpers to fly over Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Since the flag needed to be seen from miles away on a 90-foot flagpole, each star was about 2 feet across and each stripe about 2 feet wide.
Such a large flag is called a garrison flag, but it was much larger than a modern U.S. Army garrison flag, which is 38 by 20 feet. The flag's total size was 42 by 30 feet, about one-fourth the size of a modern basketball court.
The flag, which lawyer Francis Scott Key called "the star-spangled banner" in his lyrics set to an existing tune, had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. Congress had the two stars and stripes added to represent Vermont and Kentucky, which joined the Union after the country's first flag was designed. Later, In 1818, the number of stripes was permanently set back at 13, while the number of stars was allowed to grow by one for each new state.
That huge garrison flag is the one hailed by Key when he penned the words for the song that would later become our National Anthem. How much later? Although the song was instantly popular and stayed that way for more than a century, especially for military occasions, it didn't officially become our National Anthem until 1931.
Some patriotic groups worked for several decades to have "The Star-Spangled Banner" named as the U.S. National Anthem and, in 1931, Congress finally passed a bill to that effect. President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law on March 3. For that reason, March 3 is known as National Anthem Day...and the March Coin of the Month is the National Anthem coin!
In case you're wondering what became of the original star-spangled banner, it was owned by the fort's commander and passed on to his family. Pieces of it were given away over the years until one family member decided to donate the remainder to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian works to keep it in good condition and displays it in its National Museum of American History.
Read more about the flag, the song, and the coins' designs on the Commemorative Coins page.