On September 7, 1814, Francis Scott Key visited the British fleet in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay to secure the release of his friend Dr. William Beanes. The elderly physician had been taken prisoner when the British invaded Washington, setting fire to several government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, White House and Treasury Department.
Beanes’ release was secured, but he and Key were held by the British during the shelling of Fort McHenry, the principal fort defending Baltimore. On the morning of September 14, 1814, after the 25-hour British bombardment of Fort McHenry, Key peered through the clearing smoke to see a 42-foot by 30-foot American flag flying proudly over it.
He was so inspired by the sight of the enormous flag that he wrote a verse he named “The Defence of Fort McHenry” to commemorate the occasion. He also included a note that it should be sung to the tune of the popular British melody “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Within a month, the words had been published in papers along the eastern seaboard. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the anthem, which had been popularly renamed the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” be played at military and naval ceremonies. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a resolution passed by Congress that officially designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the U.S. National Anthem.