Here’s the Story Behind Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance

Seattle City Council

When we think of the Pledge of Allegiance we immediately picture ourselves back in elementary school standing with our classmates, hand over our heart reciting the pledge to the American flag. It is a common occurrence in classrooms across the country, but while many students memorize the Pledge of Allegiance, few ever learn who wrote it.

A Baptist pastor named Francis Julius Bellamy came up with the idea of the pledge and wrote the majority of it himself, but the answer to who wrote it is more complex than that. Bellamy’s pledge is far from the same as what we learned in school. The original Pledge of Allegiance went like this:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The original pledge was written by Bellamy in 1892. He wrote it because he wanted to encourage patriotism and allegiance. He also wrote with an ulterior motive. It would force schools to buy American flags for every classroom.

Bellamy retired from his work in the ministry in 1891 and went to work for a magazine called Youth’s Companion. The audience for the magazine was preteens and teens. While he was working for the magazine, part of his job was to try to sell American flags to schools, and he was very successful at it. He managed to sell 26,000 flags.

In order to motivate schools to buy flags, he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance with directions stating that students needed to face the flag and salute it while reciting the pledge. Here’s exactly what teachers and principles were told to do:

“At a signal from the Principal, the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag.

Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute – right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it.”

The pledge itself changed throughout the years. The first major change came in 1923 when “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States.” The American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution are responsible for this change. They thought it would make the pledge less confusing for immigrants. In 1924, they also added “of America.”

In 1942, children stopped saluting the flag. The salute made many people uncomfortable because it reminded them of Nazis. Instead, children starting putting their hand over their heart (which is how we learned it).

The words “under God” were added in the 1950s by a Catholic organization called the Knights of Columbus. Congress approved the change in 1954 and President Eisenhower signed it into law. His pastor convinced him it was the right thing to do.

There you have it. That’s a brief history of who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. Did you learn the Pledge of Allegiance in school? Did you know that it was originally written partly as a way to sell flags?