This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for March 3, 2017: I Love You

Mar. 3, 2017: on this day: “The Star-Spangled Banner” becomes the official national anthem of the United States

It was on this day in 1931 that “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official national anthem of the United States.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key more than a century before, “Defence of Fort McHenry.” He’d spent a night toward the end of the War of 1812 hearing the British navy bombard Baltimore, Maryland. The bombardment lasted 25 hours — and in the dawn’s early light, Francis Scott Key emerged to see the U.S. flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He jotted the poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” on the back of an envelope. Then he went to his hotel and made another copy, which was printed in the Baltimore American a week later.

The tune for the “Star-Spangled Banner” comes from an old British drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which was very popular at men’s social clubs in London during the 1700s. Francis Scott Key himself did the pairing of the tune to his poem. It was a big hit.

For the next century, a few different anthems were used at official U.S. ceremonies, including “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Hail Columbia.” The U.S. Navy adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” for its officialdom in 1889, and the presidency did in 1916. But it wasn’t until this day in 1931 — just 86 years ago — that Congress passed a resolution and Hoover signed into law the decree that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the official national anthem of the United States of America.