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Star Spangled Banner

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(Information posted below is from The Smithsonian' s Website) The National Museum of American History

Smithsonian/ Flag Restoration Project


Over the years the Star-Spangled Banner has undergone a series of transformations. When it was made in 1813 it was a simple garrison flag. After the British attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry in 1814, it became a valued keepsake in the family of Lt. Col. George Armistead, the fort's commander. The popularity of Francis Scott Key's anthem during and after the Civil War transformed it into a national treasure. Since going to the Smithsonian in 1907, the historic flag has been a visible reminder of both the ideals represented by the American flag and the need to preserve those ideals.


MAKING THE FLAG: The Star-Spangled Banner was made under government contract in the summer of 1813 by a professional Baltimore flagmaker, Mary Pickersgill. Assisted by her 13-year old daughter, Caroline, and by two of her nieces, Eliza and Margaret Young, Mary may also have received help from her mother, Rebecca Young, who was a flagmaker as well. To assemble the unusually large flag, Pickersgill laid it out on the floor of a neighboring brewery. She used English woolen bunting for the stripes and the union and cotton for the stars.

The garrison flag that Mary Pickersgill made for Fort McHenry measured 30 x 42 feet, about one quarter the size of a basketball court. Each star was about two feet across. The U.S. Army paid $405.90 to Mary Pickersgill for making the Star-Spangled Banner in 1813.

Mary Pickersgill's house has been preserved as a museum. The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and 1812 Museum is in Baltimore, not far from Fort McHenry.


THE FLAG IN BATTLE: The Star-Spangled Banner received its baptism by fire at the Battle of Baltimore on Sept. 12-14, 1814. That battle was one of a series of clashes between British and American forces during the final year of the War of 1812. British troops first attacked Baltimore, the United States' third largest city, by land. Badly outnumbered by American militiamen, they withdrew. British ships bombarded Fort McHenry, which guarded Baltimore's harbor, for 25 hours. Maj. George Armistead, the fort's commander, refused to haul down the American flag and surrender. Baltimore was spared, and the British, daunted on land and sea, sailed away. The young republic rejoiced in its against-the-odds victory.

While Francis Scott Key's song was known to most Americans by the end of the Civil War, the flag that inspired it remained an Armistead family keepsake. It was exhibited occasionally at patriotic gatherings in Baltimore but largely unknown outside of that city until the 1870s. The flag remained the private property of Lieutenant Colonel Armistead's widow, Louisa Armistead, his daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton, and his grandson Eben Appleton for 90 years. During that time, the increasing popularity of Key's anthem and the American public's developing sense of national heritage transformed the Star-Spangled Banner from a family keepsake into a national treasure.

On Lieutenant Colonel Armistead's death in 1818, the Star-Spangled Banner passed to his widow, Louisa Hughes Armistead. For nearly forty years, Louisa Armistead kept it in her Baltimore home. She made several alterations to the flag. Occasionally she allowed it to be displayed for patriotic events. She lent both the flag and her late husband's silver service for display at a reception for Revolutionary hero General Lafayette at Fort McHenry in 1824. She also lent the flag for a celebration by the Old Defenders of the Battle of Fort McHenry's 25th anniversary in 1839.

Louisa Armistead sewed the red chevron on one of the flag's white stripes. According to her daughter, she intended it to be the letter A, probably for "Armistead."

What happened to the missing star on the Star-Spangled Banner? Many have described it as having been carried away by British shot. But according to Georgiana Armistead Appleton, her mother, Louisa, cut it out to present it to "some official person."

Certain people were granted the privilege of cutting fragments from the flag as souvenirs. "Indeed had we have given all we had been importuned for," Georgiana Appleton wrote, "little would be left to show." Owners of some of these historic fragments have given theirs to the Smithsonian.

When Louisa Armistead died in 1861 she left the Star-Spangled Banner to her daughter, Georgiana Armistead Appleton. Mrs. Appleton lent the flag to naval historian Adm. George Preble, who took the first known photograph of the flag in 1873. He persuaded Mrs. Appleton to lend it to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. After the exposition Mrs. Appleton considered donating the flag to a museum, but she died in 1878 without having made a decision.

Louisa Armistead willed the flag to her youngest daughter, Georgiana, because she had been born at Fort McHenry and was named after her father, George Armistead. Louisa's son, Christopher, hired a lawyer to persuade his sister to surrender the flag to him, but she remained steadfast.

Georgiana Armistead Appleton's signature, dated June 24, 1876, was identified on the Star-Spangled Banner during the 1914 restoration. It is located on one of the fifteen stars. Above her signature is an inscription, "this precious relic of my father's fame I here by bequeath" then there is a hole where the rest of the writing has been cut out. It is possible that Mrs. Appleton intended to donate the Star-Spangled Banner to a museum and later changed her mind.

New York stockbroker Eben Appleton inherited the Star-Spangled Banner upon his mother's death in 1878. The publicity that it had received in the 1870s had transformed it into a national treasure, and Appleton received many requests to lend it for patriotic occasions. He permitted it to go to Baltimore for that city's sesquicentennial celebration in 1880. After that his concern for the flag's deteriorating condition led him to keep it in a safe-deposit vault in New York. In 1907 he lent the Star-Spangled Banner to the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1912 he converted the loan to a gift.

"It has always been my intention to present the flag during my lifetime to that Institution in the Country where it could be conveniently seen by the public, . . . and the advantages and appropriateness of the National Museum are so obvious, as to render consideration of any other place unnecessary." --Eben Appleton to Smithsonian Secretary Charles Walcott, 1912.

THE FLAG MOVES TO THE SMITHSONIAN:When it arrived at the Smithsonian in July 1907, the Star-Spangled Banner was hung on the exterior wall of the Smithsonian Institution Building (the "Castle") to be photographed. The assistant secretary of the Smithsonian wrote to Eben Appleton saying, "The newspaper men are after me, and they all want a photograph of it to publish in the various local papers . . . Its presence in the Museum has caused a wave of patriotism, which is very good to see."

The Star-Spangled Banner, like most objects, has gradually deteriorated over time. Fibers in the great flag's wool and cotton fabric have been weakened by almost two centuries of exposure to light, dust and other elements. The Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project aims to understand causes of the flag's current condition and to design and carry out treatment that addresses those conditions. Conservation projects require specialized skills, facilities, and equipment. The flag's size and its tremendous value to the American people make this an unusual project. Follow the Project's progress through this Web site and by visiting the Museum's Star-Spangled Banner Conservation Laboratory.

Past custodians of the Star-Spangled Banner have cared for it well. Three generations of the Armistead family guarded it as the family's most cherished possession. The flag's weakened condition was first recognized in 1873 by Adm. George Preble, who attached a sailcloth backing to the flag so that it could be photographed. After the flag was donated to the Smithsonian in 1912, the Institution employed a professional flag restorer to replace the sailcloth backing with linen using a patented stitching technique. Despite careful cleanings and specially designed displays, the flag's condition continued to weaken as it aged 


Preservation includes preventive measures to extend the life of an object for display and research.
Conservation is the physical or chemical treatment of an object to stabilize it.
Restoration, a process not used by museums, makes an object appear newer by bringing it closer to its original condition.


EARLY PRESERVATION: From the day the flag arrived at the national museum, Smithsonian staff realized that it was in a weakened state. It was still attached to the heavy sailcloth that had been added in 1873. While this gave some support to the flag, the backing was uneven, and the flag sagged and became distorted when displayed. In 1914 the Smithsonian recruited Amelia Fowler, a professional flag restorer, to preserve the flag. With a team of needlewomen, she stitched the flag to a linen lining to provide all-over support.

A team of needlewomen painstakingly attached the flag to the linen backing using approximately 1.7 million small stitches. Makeshift tables supported the flag during the work in the room now known as the Commons in the Smithsonian Institution Building (the "Castle").

Smithsonian staff removed the flag from its display case from time to time to monitor its condition and to keep it as clean as possible. Here staff carefully vacuum the flag to remove any loosely adhered dust particles. The flag's surface was protected by a screen during vacuuming.

The Smithsonian's 1914 decision to display the Star-Spangled Banner with the blue canton in the right-hand corner made visible the red A and the flag's inscriptions. By 1923 the flag code deemed this an innappropriate way to hang the flag. The flag code is a series of rules that specifically govern the display and handling of the U.S. flag.


TODAY's PRESERVATION PROJECT: In 1999 teams of museum conservators, curators, and other specialists helped move the flag safely into a new conservation laboratory. Staff sealed off the work zone in Flag Hall from public access and secured the area. They covered the flag's back and front. They then reinforced the display frame and lowered the flag on cantilevered scaffolding. Designers created a large-diameter rolling tube, along with a break-apart crate, to use for the occasion. Specialists then cleaned the flag and protected its fragile areas before rolling it onto the tube for transport to the new lab in its special crate.

A protective covering was slowly lowered over the flag by conservation team members in preparation for deinstallation.

Riggers played an important role in the flag's deinstallation from Flag Hall. A team member directed his colleagues on the winches to keep the flag level. Riggers can also be seen here on their perch on the Museum's fourth floor.

The rolled flag was so large that a crate had to be brought into the building in pieces and carefully assembled around the flag.

Link to video:

The Smithsonian Museum built a special conservation laboratory to accommodate the large flag laid out flat. Museum visitors can observe the conservation process through a 50-foot (15.2-m)-long glass wall. A moveable bridge (gantry) gives the conservation team a working surface above the flag. The lab is equipped with its own heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system (HVAC) that keeps the air free of contaminants and maintains a steady, beneficial temperature and relative humidity. Low light levels are also maintained to minimize damage to the flag.

Suspended above the flag's surface about 3 to 4 inches (7-10 cm), the gantry permits easy access to the flag for examination and treatment. It can safely hold seven people at one time.

The conservation of the Star-Spangled Banner began in June 1999. In the first phase, the team removed a linen support backing, attached to the flag in 1914. Over the years, this support had weakened and become soiled. The ongoing second phase includes the most comprehensive, detailed examination of the condition and construction of the Star-Spangled Banner to date. This examination provides critical baseline information for later work.
Planning and then executing a cleaning protocol is the third phase. In the final phase of the project, curators and conservators will establish a long-term preservation plan, including permanent display of the Star-Spangled Banner. The conservation team expects to complete its work by the end of 2002.

Conservators use pH readings to measure the levels of acid or base in the fibers of the flag. The stability of organic materials, such as the fibers of the flag, is dependent on their acid and base levels. Protein, such as wool, is generally stable in a pH range of 4 to 8, while cellulose material, like cotton or linen, is stable in a pH range of 6 to 8. The pH information helps the conservators determine what type of cleaning is necessary on the flag.

Color readings are used by conservators and scientists to study the flag. A spectrophotometer is an instrument that collects color readings and helps analyze dyes. The spectral data allow non-destructive analysis of the dye material and permit an accurate assessment of the true color of the flag. Curators and exhibition designers also intend to use this information to determine the optimal light sources for the flag's future display.

The conservators examine the flag both microscopically and macroscopically. Fiber analysis of sewing threads and visual observation help determine the chronology of the many stains, mends, and patches found on the flag.

For the first time, the conservators have the chance to examine in great detail the side of the flag the public has not seen since 1873. The written and photographic records created during this examination phase, along with the historic information, will be used by museum staff to monitor the flag's condition when it is placed back on permanent display.

The conservators painstakingly removed the linen backing attached to the flag in 1914. They used small spatulas to separate the linen from the flag, then carefully lifted the linen and removed it in small sections. With the linen removed, the brightness of the flag's colors became evident. Next, the team analyzed the linen to determine the contaminants found on both the flag and the linen backing. Identifying these contaminants will help the conservators determine the best methods of cleaning the flag.

SEE THE FLAG AT THE SMITHSONIAN/ The National Museum of American History in Washington, DC

Visit "Preserving the Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem," the companion exhibition to the" Star-Spangled Banner Conservation Laboratory." In this exhibition you will learn more about the flag's history and previous conservation treatments, as well as the three-year conservation project that is taking place in the laboratory. You will have the opportunity to see the conservators at work and to use several interactives to guide your visit. Handle a reproduction of wool bunting to get a sense of what the flag feels like. Get up close to a set of stitches like those on the flag and think about how long it took to stitch the backing to the flag. Or touch the smooth casing of a 19th-century bombshell and imagine what the bombs were like at Fort McHenry.

Docent-led tours of Preserving the Star-Spangled Banner are available at 1:00 pm on weekdays and 11:30 am on weekends, as announced by docent.

Visitors to the Museum's popular Hands On Science Center (HOSC) will be able to explore some of the steps conservators and historians are currently taking to conserve the Star-Spangled Banner. At the HOSC Lab Bench, you can try out the tools a conservator employs in investigating the condition of a reproduction star from the Star-Spangled Banner. Using historical letters, microscopes, and scientific tests, you can determine what types of materials Mary Pickersgill used to make the original Star-Spangled Banner and what the physical evidence indicates about the condition of the flag today.

The HOSC is open to visitors age 5 and up; adults must accompany children ages 5 through 12. The HOSC's hours are 12:30 to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Friday and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday. It is closed Mondays and holidays. Extended summer hours are determined annually. Free tickets are required during busy times and may be picked up on a first-come, first-served basis at the door of the Hands On Science Center on the Museum's first floor.

For Further Information: Call Smithsonian Visitor Information: (202) 357-2700(voice) or (202) 357-1729 (TTY), Mon.-Fri., 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Sat. and Sun., 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, or write to: Events, Room MBB66, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 20560-0646.

To learn more about the Star Spangled Banner and its restoration at the Smithsonian Museum click here