History Behind The Francis Scott Key Bridge

March 28, 2024

It’s not just unprecedented; it’s heartbreaking.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore after a cargo ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the Baltimore harbor early Tuesday morning. Officials have presumed six construction works dead who had been on the bridge at the time of the collision, and an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Big Picture: The Francis Scott Key Bridge dates to the 1970s and is named after Francis Scott Key – an American lawyer who authored what is now known as America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He penned the words after witnessing a 25-hour battle between British and American forces in the Baltimore Harbor (the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812). Key assumed the British would win but instead woke to see the American flag waving – this experience inspired the words.

After five years of construction, the Francis Scott Key bridge opened in 1977. Over the years, it became “a vital transportation route for Maryland residents and many other drivers traversing the East Coast, especially between New York and Washington, D.C,” NPR reports, noting that the “The 1.6-mile bridge saw about 30,000 commuters a day and an overall traffic volume of some 11.3 million vehicles each year” (NPR).

The Maryland Transportation Authority explains that the bridge, once standing “in an area rich with American history,” crossed “within 100 yards of the site where Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the evening of Sept. 12, 1814.”

In that location each year, the U.S. Coast Guard sets out the Francis Scott Key Memorial buoy in a tradition which became an annual duty of the Coast Guard’s three years after Key Bridge opened. The buoy is set out at the start of the summer and removed ahead of winter. When the buoy was set in 2022, James Horn with the National Park Service told a local Baltimore news station, “The Star-Spangled Banner is not even really about the flag. It’s about what we as Americans do underneath that flag. When we are at our darkest hours, when we have our backs up against the wall, the patriotic thing that we can do is to come together and help one another.”

Read More: Baltimore’s Key Bridge was built in the ’70s, but has a deep and patriotic history (NPR)

by Leah Grainery, based in Texas