Weird History
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The Pledge Of Allegiance Was A Marketing Ploy Designed To Sell As Many Flags As Possible

Updated August 1, 2019 110.8k views10 items

Americans know the Pledge of Allegiance very well – the great majority of US states require school children to recite it every single morning. But not many of us know the true history of the Pledge of Allegiance, or that of its author, Francis Bellamy. 

While it's true that the Pledge of Allegiance was created as a way to instill patriotism in American kids, it's also so much more than that. The Pledge has gone through several transformations, each of which provides a really interesting insight into the fears and desires of the United States at a particular point in history. 

The Pledge of Allegiance has also stirred up controversy over the years, with its original salute (too close to the Nazi salute for comfort) and the addition of "under God." But most people aren't even aware of one of its hidden controversies – that it was written to sell flags for a magazine.

  • Francis Bellamy, The Writer Of The Pledge, Was A Socialist Minister With A Racist, Xenophobic Flair

    Photo: Youth's Companion / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In his earlier career as a Baptist preacher, Francis Bellamy had not received positive responses to his socialist ideas and beliefs. His cohorts especially didn't like his penchant for describing Jesus as a socialist. However, once he got a job working for a magazine called the Youth's Companion, he was free to let that flag fly, so to speak. His writings were political and racist, and they paired his arguments against capitalism with his distrust of non-US citizens. He advocated for the principles of what he deemed "true Americanism."

  • The Pledge Helped Put Flags At Schools Across America

    Photo: New-York Tribune / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In the late 1880s, there was a movement to place a flag at every school in the United States. The owner of the Youth's Companion, Daniel Sharp Ford, thought that promoting the flags could help boost sales of the magazine. It was already the most widely circulated weekly magazine at the time, and eminent writers like Mark Twain submitted their work to it, but promoting the sale of American flags really helped push it to the top. Bellamy was hired to come up with a short and sweet pledge to help the magazine sell the flags.

  • Flag Sales Shot Up With The Proclamation Of The First Columbus Day, And Bellamy's Magazine Profited

    Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    President Benjamin Harrison created the first Columbus Day in 1892, honoring the marking of 400 years since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, and his "discovery" of the Americas. The idea behind the celebration was to instill a sense of patriotism in Americans, and the sale of American flags went up in response. Companies like the Youth's Companion, which promised its readers a "free" American flag with the sale of subscriptionssaw enormous profits by jumping on this patriotic bandwagon.

  • He Wrote The Pledge In Less Than Two Hours

    Photo: Dsarokin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Although the period of time in which Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance was relatively short, a lot of thought went into the process. He was very careful about the wording he used, and he drew inspiration from the French motto of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." As such, the actual writing and planning of the Pledge was years in the making. Bellamy was later praised for his short – yet poetic – writing.