Volume 7, Number 4, 1998
- The flag now known as The Star-Spangled Banner was made in 1813
by Mary Pickersgill of Philadelphia and her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline. It was made for Lt. Col. George Armistead, who had commissioned the flag to fly over Fort McHenry, where he was the commander of American troops
during the War of 1812.
- Cost was $405.90 for what was then a 50-pound, 30-by-42-foot flag. While massive by today's standards, it was a customary size for 19th-century garrison flags designed to fly from 90-foot-high flagpoles.
- The flag has 15 stars and 15 stripes, one for each state as mandated by the Congress of 1794. (Some years later, the number of stripes was reduced to 13 to represent each of the original 13 states, while new stars continued to be added for each state that joined the Union.)
- A red "V" in the middle of the flag was probably the letter "A" added by Mrs. Armistead, as it was the custom then to personalize flags.
- The flag was flown at Fort McHenry on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814. It was taken down at night and replaced with a smaller, less-expensive storm flag.
- The flag was hoisted again on the morning of Sept. 14 as British ships were retreating from Baltimore's harbor. Francis Scott Key, detained on one of those ships, saw the flag at about 7 a.m. "by the dawn's early light" and was inspired to write the patriotic and defiant words of a poem that became a rallying cry for Americans who had fought their first war as a united nation. (The poem was set to music and gradually attained the status of national anthem, although it was not officially given that title until 1931.
- The flag belonged to Armistead's family for many years. By 1861, it was kept in the Baltimore home of Armistead's son, Christopher Hughes Armistead. After that, it was in the care of Armistead's daughter Georgianna Appleton, who treasured the flag as a symbol of her father's courage at Fort McHenry.
- In 1876, the flag was sent to Philadelphia to be displayed in the nation's Centennial Exposition. In 1907, the family donated it to the Smithsonian where it has been ever since. Numerous requests to borrow the flag are always turned down, honoring the family's wish that it always hang in the museum for "any American citizen" to find "in its accustomed place."
- For five decades, the flag hung in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building, then known as the National Museum. It was cleaned and treated several times over the years and supported with a heavy linen backing that, in 1914, was sewn on with about 1.7 million stitches by a team of seamstresses,
- During World War II, the flag was one of many national treasures to be removed from the museums of Washington and stored in a safe place. In 1944, it was returned to the Arts and Industries Building and was on display there until 1963, when it was relocated to its present home.
-Information provided by the National Museum of American History