The Star-Spangled Banner is more than just the name of our National Anthem. In July 1813, Major General George Armistead was the commander of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. He went to the commander of Baltimore defenses to request a huge flag. This flag didn’t fly during the battle at the Fort, but it was raised the next day. That’s when Francis Scott Key saw it and realized the British attack failed. The poem he wrote inspired by the flag was eventually given the same name as the flag: The Star-Spangled Banner.
The Making of the Star-Spangled Banner
General Armistead hired a 29-year-old widow and professional flag maker, Mary Young Pickersgill. Mary worked with her daughter, three nieces, and a 13-year-old indentured servant. It took them six weeks working ten hours per day to finish the flag. For all that work, Mary was paid $405.90.
The Path of the Flag
The Armistead family ended up keeping the Star-Spangled Banner. After Fort Henry’s commander died, his wife, Louisa, inherited it. Historians say she came up with the idea of giving away pieces of the flag in her husband’s memory to soldiers who had defended the fort while serving under his command.
Over the years, the family continued the tradition of giving away pieces of the flag. Armistead’s grandson gave away the last piece in 1880. Some of the pieces are now owned by the American History Museum, but others are probably in private collections. There is still one star that has never been found.
The flag is now at the Smithsonian, but it’s smaller than the original size and damaged from years of use and from the pieces being divided up. Two centuries later, and the flag that inspired America’s National Anthem has survived and can still be viewed.