Dr. Leonard Buckley Assists Star-Spangled Banner Team

10/8/1998 - 49-98r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541

One of America's most beloved treasures, the Star-Spangled Banner, is undergoing a long-term preservation project that will span several years. The flag is currently housed at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Dr. Leonard Buckley, of the Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL's) Chemistry Division, is a member of the technical advisory team which is studying the condition of the flag and recommending methods for its restoration and preservation. According to Mr. Ronald E. Becker, Director of the Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project, Dr. Buckley's "participation on our steering committee has given the project invaluable expertise, which continues to be vital to our work."

Dr. Buckley was chosen for the team due to his technical expertise in polymer science. The flag is primarily comprised of wool fibers with a linen backing. Dr. Buckley has studied a small sample of the flag's fibers with a scanning electron microscope to help determine the proper method for cleaning the aging flag. He has compared the flag's fibers to other fiber samples from the same time period to evaluate their structural similarities and extent of damage. His function as a committee member is to provide technical guidance during the entire restoration project.

The flag has been on public display since approximately 1914. It is nearly impossible to control the environmental conditions adversely affecting the flag. The most significant factors contributing to the aging process have been the ultraviolet lighting and the air pollution inside the museum. There are also slight traces of iron and gunpowder dating back to the War of 1812. It has previously been cleaned with gasoline and in the 1800's it was cleaned with a high ammonia concentrate.

The Star-Spangled Banner was donated to the Smithsonian by the grandson of Fort McHenry's commander, MAJ George Armistead, with the stipulation that it would always remain in the public's view. Therefore, a glass-enclosed laboratory is being constructed at the museum so that the flag will be visible during the entire restoration project. The flag is scheduled to be moved from its current location to the new laboratory this fall. During the restoration period, a temporary exhibition will be constructed near the conservation laboratory. When the flag conservation project is complete, the flag will return to a new display in the renovated "Flag Hall."

The flag was originally constructed by Ms. Mary Pickersgill and her daughter Ms. Caroline Purdy, in the summer of 1813. It was the inspiration for Mr. Francis Scott Key's poem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," which was declared our national anthem by Congress in 1931.

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