For many Americans, Fourth of July celebrations go hand in hand with our brilliant “Star-Spangled Banner,” particularly when it comes to fireworks displays. There’s nothing like a grand show, filling our skies with colorful lights, punctuated by that rousing song and bombastic explosions of sound.
Part of that tradition dates to July 4, 1777, the year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. There was a magnificent celebration in Philadelphia, then our nation’s capital. It saw 13 cannons being fired from ships dressed in red, white and blue; a spirited band performance; bells ringing throughout the city; and a grand exhibition of fireworks that night. “Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum,” reported the Virginia Gazette, “and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”
But, interestingly enough, “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t written until much later. Amateur poet Francis Scott Key penned it as a poem first, after witnessing a violent siege on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, and seeing our flag still flying over it the next morning. His first glorious verse:
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Key’s poem was eventually set to music — a popular English drinking tune, in fact — and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared that it should be played at all official events. Fifteen years later, in 1931, the poem that became a song became our national anthem.
This weekend, and next Wednesday — July 4 — there will be fireworks displays all over North Texas, from Fort Worth to Dallas, Fair Park to Plano, and everywhere in between. As you look to the sky and see those rockets’ red glares, remember the historic events that set all this in motion.
Happy birthday, America. At 242 years old, you’ve never looked better.
ROBBIE BRIGGS, President and CEO
As seen in the Wall Street Journal’s Mansion section.