The Pledge of Allegiance started as a piece of pop culture. It became so ingrained in the American psyche that protocols for its recitation became codified by the federal government.
The Pledge of Allegiance was created, like many other pop culture phenomena, as a way to make money. The owner of a magazine called Youth’s Companion wanted to sell flags
— and subscriptions — to American public schools. At the time, in the early 1890s, the Civil War was a not so distant memory. The nation’s unity had been hard fought, and the flag was a symbol of that unity. The school flag movement
was an effort to Americanize immigrants and build patriotism. The magazine’s sales department came up with the idea of giving flags to schools as premiums for selling annual subscriptions.
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In 1892, Chicago was set to celebrate the World’s Fair. It was to be called the World’s Columbian Exhibition in honor of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. At the time, Columbus Day was not celebrated as a federal holiday
, but was marked by many on October 12. In that year, the date was set as the opening for the World’s Fair, and Youth’s Companion saw it as an opportunity
to create a national experience for schoolchildren.
Francis Bellamy, an ordained minister with socialist ideals, created the Pledge of Allegiance to be a part of a short flag ceremony for schools. It was created as a part of an official "programme" for a National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day, which was set to coincide with the opening of the World’s Fair.
The Pledge of Allegiance was a success. Its popularity grew, and by 1923, it became a part of the U.S. Flag Code
developed at the National Flag Conference.
The code and the Pledge of Allegiance became law when Congress formally adopted the Flag Code in 1942. It is not the kind of law that has legal repercussions though. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld in a number of cases the voluntary nature of the Pledge of Allegiance.
In the 120 years since it was penned, so many American children have started their school day with its recitation that the Pledge of Allegiance has given ample fodder to pop culture for the reverence and irreverence it inspires.
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- Here’s a respectful rendition of the pledge set to song by Lee Greenwood.
- Comedian Red Skelton gets serious for a moment to share a memory of reciting the pledge.
- Here’s Porky Pig, who stutters through life but can clearly recite the pledge.
- Bart Simpson has a less reverent take.
- And no one says it like the Duke, John Wayne.
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