The Star-Spangled Banner’s large size, fragile condition, and tremendous value to the American people have made it a challenging artifact to preserve and display. Like most objects, the flag has gradually deteriorated over time. Its woolen and cotton fibers have been weakened by almost two centuries of exposure to light, dust, and other elements. The flag is no longer strong enough to support its own weight.
The flag’s weakened condition was first recognized in 1873 by Admiral George Preble, who attached sailcloth backing to the Star-Spangled Banner so that it could be hung and photographed. After the flag was donated to the Smithsonian in 1912, the institution employed a professional flag restorer to replace the sailcloth backing with linen, using a patented stitching technique. When the flag was installed in the National Museum of American History building, which opened to the public in 1964, special straps had been added to the backing to protect the flag from the stress of the vertical display.
After the Star-Spangled Banner was taken down in 1998 and its linen backing removed, its fragile condition was evident. Rather than try to hang the flag again, the Smithsonian decided to find a new way to display the Star-Spangled Banner.
Check out the progress of this restoration project at the Star-Spangled Banner Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/.
After the conservation work is complete, the Star-Spangled Banner will be returned to the heart of the museum and installed in a dramatic new flag room. Visitors will be able to see the flag in its true condition, as a tattered but treasured piece of our nation’s history.
Resource: Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History http://americanhistory.si.edu/about/ssb.cfm
Source: Marjorie M. Baker, Extension Associate for Clothing and Textiles, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture