more than 155 years, the Smithsonian Institution has been the guardian
of Americas cultural heritage. The Smithsonian preserves the objects
that represent our collective history and offers all Americans numerous
venues across the country where they can explore the seminal experiences
that continue to shape our nation.
Perhaps no other object tells as compelling a story about the beginnings
of our country as the Star-Spangled Banner. This famous flag flew over
Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the British bombardment of 1814 and inspired
Francis Scott Key to pen his patriotic poem that became the national anthem
When Eben Appleton, grandson of the commander of Fort McHenry and caretaker
of the flag, was looking for an appropriate place to preserve the Star-spangled
Banner for all time, he turned to the Smithsonian. He wanted it to stay
on public view at the Smithsonian forever. True to our promise, we have
kept the Star-spangled Banner on almost continuous view since then.
As you know, the timeworn, almost 188-year-old textile is now undergoing
a groundbreaking conservation treatment at the National Museum of American
History, Behring Centerin full view of the public. Preserving such
a large and aged object as the Star-spangled Banner is quite a challenge.
We are using many tools, from needle and thread to NASA near-infrared
spectral imaging. We have removed the banners linen backing, originally
attached in 1914 during the first Smithsonian preservation effort, and
all its nearly two million stitches. Absent its backing, the flags
fragile state is readily apparent; a gust of wind could virtually sweep
it away. We will never let that happen. We also discovered previously
unseen patches on the original flag and more vibrant colors in the fabric.
Were sharing all these discoveries with the public, so a visitor
can return several times and each time see a different view of the flag.
This report details our progress in the preservation effort. We explain
what we have discovered about the Star-spangled Banner, and how that knowledge
informs our decisions on how to best care for it. The conservation team
now estimates that, because of the strides theyre making in techniques
and research, the life span of this national treasure might be expanded
as much as 500 years.
We are on schedule and very optimistic about the future of the Star-Spangled
Banner. Were keeping our promise to Eben Appleton and the nation.
We hope you find the project as enthralling as we do, and if you havent
already visited, we invite you to come to the Museum to see for yourself.
Thank you very much for your continued support.
Lawrence M. Small, Secretary