75 years ago today, Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance, adding it to the U.S. Flag Code. This schoolhouse child's bank from the late 1800s is a reminder that the pledge's history goes back much further than 1945. (Look closely at the bank's roof. The lettering is faint, but can you spot the original wording of the pledge?).
Today’s Pledge of Allegiance is a legacy of the push for "Americanization” that defined the social studies curriculum of U.S. schools from the late 1880s through World War I. In the late 1800s, the steady rise of the nation’s immigrant population created anxiety among many native-born Americans who feared that newcomers were not adapting to their new homeland quickly enough. During that period, veterans’ groups, patriotic societies, and community groups—including the Patriotic League and the Grand Army of the Republic— led grassroots campaigns to promote a specific kind of patriotism and understanding of American values in schools. One consequence of their efforts? An explosion of school supplies with patriotic images and messages, including the bank above with its message: "One Nation, Flag, Language, School."
For companies that manufactured and advertised school supplies, this patriotic fervor was a business opportunity. A version of the Pledge of Allegiance was first published in "The Youth’s Companion," a popular family magazine, on September 8, 1892. The magazine became involved with Americanization efforts in part because of the personal interest of the magazine’s leadership, but also because of the publisher’s desire to boost subscription sales through gimmicks and giveaways. These gimmicks included campaigns to distribute American flags to every school and the promotion of inexpensive images of George Washington to supplement other portraits gracing classroom walls. Both of the magazines’ efforts were successful in boosting magazine sales and, in the process, fostering a tradition of patriotic material culture in American classrooms.
You can learn more about the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance on our blog: https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/i-pledge-allegiance