A long, long time ago, I remember watching a TV miniseries about the first Olympics of the modern era in 1896.

One of the amusing substories I remember involved the USA's National Anthem and the Olympic band. The story was that the band leader asked the USA delegation for their national anthem to play in the event. He was told that the USA didn't have one, and was provided a list of three songs that are commonly used.

The "amusing" part was that the band leader picked his favorite of the three, but one of his band members prefered The Star Spangled Banner, and secretly replaced the band leader's choice with it. Thereafter whenever the USA won something, we got a shot of the anthem being played, with the one band member looking smug and the band leader looking disgusted.

I'm wondering how much of this is true, and how much was just made up for the drama. It does appear to be true that The Star Spangled Banner didn't become the USA National Anthem until 1931, but how much (if any) of that had to do with the Olympics? Was it in fact the song played for the USA at the 1896 games?

2 Answers 2


My answer is that this is just a dramatization with little to no research done by the producing team. The tradition of playing the winning team's national anthem was not begun until the 1932 Olympics (a common misconception is that the tradition started at the 1924 Olympics). So, in other words, it is impossible that the Star Spangled Banner was played at the 1896 Olympics. The only anthem played at the 1896 Olympics was the Greek anthem (because they were the host country). The Olympic anthem wasn't used until the 1960 games.

So, to sum it up, TV is very unreliable and should be used when seeking drama, not fact.


  • 3
    That is true for the so called History Channel too.
    – Apoorv
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 0:13
  • 4
    The only stuff on there is conspiracy theories with no historical backup.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 0:16
  • 2
    This is a very good answer. Since tSSB was made the USA national anthem in 1931, if the '32 Olympics were the first ones to play National Anthems, I guess it's choice couldn't have had anything to do with the Olympics (unless Congress was looking ahead to the Olympics when they did that?)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 13:41
  • No, in 1931, John Philip Sousa stated that "it is the spirit of the music that inspires" as much as it is Key's "soul-stirring" words. He was a major proponent of having an official national anthem.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 15:23
  • 2
    @Luke - Apparently, before WWI we essentially had one, but it was Hail Columbia. Why it went out of fashion, I'm not sure (perhaps another good question).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 16:37

Here's a link to 36 USC Section 301, regarding the national anthem:


There are a number of references in the code about the "military salute."

It seems like the Star Spangled Banner was chosen for its "martialness."

The Olympics probably weren't a factor. The song was adopted by an act of Congress in 1931, a year in which there were no Olympics.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.