America's National Anthem's 'The Star-Spangled Banner' Due To Ripley's Believe It or Not
Despite Francis Scott Key first writing the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in 1814, and despite its patriotic popularity during the Wars Civil and World I, it didn't officially become America's song until 1931 – two years after Robert Ripley's Believe It or Not comic riled up the masses and caused a letter-writing campaign the likes of which the world had never seen.
Just how, exactly, did a single-panel comic – one, by the way, that's still running today – change actual American policy? Through persistence, pedantry, and pissing off just about everyone.
Originally started as a sports trivia comic, Ripley's Believe It or Not did fine for its first few years. In 1924, it was picked up for syndication by the Associated Press and started gaining even more eyeballs. But it didn't really hit the big time until 1927 when Ripley did the unthinkable: he called out Charles Lindbergh as a liar. Lindbergh had just made a nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic and was being lauded as a hero. Ripley, meanwhile, pointed out that Lindy was actually the 67th man to do what he did, so maybe we should all slow our collective rolls.
America responded precisely as you'd imagine: by yelling at Ripley
in the comments via painstakingly handwritten letters and accidentally making his comic strip famous in the process. By the time 1929 rolled around, Robert Ripley was a bonified celebrity, bankrolled by William Randolph Hearst and buoyed by the Great Depression. Even crazier, instead of berating him, newspaper readers everywhere had started taking his trivia as gospel.
All of which is to say that when Ripley's Believe It or Not pointed out that America had zero national anthems – and especially not "The Star-Spangled Banner," or, as he called it, "a vulgar old English drinking song" – people listened. The American public was shocked – shocked! – and demanded this situation be remedied. Letters began pouring into the government, along with a petition that garnered over five million actual pen-and-ink signatures.
This seemed like an easy enough slam-dunk for the Depression-rattled Hoover administration, and so they did as requested, officially declaring "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem of the United States of America, a scant 16 months after the cartoon debuted.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. He’s also on Twitter a bunch.
Top Image: U.S. Navy