Until 1892, there was no such national loyalty oath as the Pledge of Allegiance. Since then, for almost 130 years afterward, school children across the nation started their school days by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Few, if any, students, however, could tell you when the tradition began, or even who wrote the words that so many of us have memorized.
Daniel Sharp Ford, the owner of popular weekly magazine Youth's Companion, led the charge—initially a crusade to hang American flags in every schoolroom in the nation. An entire movement was built around his belief that the U.S. needed to introduce children to the concept of patriotism.
To energize the campaign, Sharp gave an assignment to a staff writer, Francis J. Bellamy, who was also a minister and a so-called "Christian socialist." Sharp asked Bellamy to compose a Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Bellamy wrote it and when it was published in the magazine, the Pledge became extremely popular. It was recited at schools, athletic events, other public gatherings, and in Congress.
But there was another piece of the campaign narrative: "Because, inherently, there is something physically awkward about people simply standing in place, their arms hanging limply by their sides staring at a flag and reciting a pledge, it was decided that devising a salute would be appropriate," wrote CNN contributor Bob Greene.
The invented gesture was known as the Bellamy Salute, in honor of the Pledge's author. The Bellamy Salute consisted of each person—man, woman or child—extending their right arm forward, angling slightly upward, fingers pointing directly ahead. With their right arms aiming stiffly toward the flag, they recited: "I pledge allegiance …"
Instructions on how to correctly use the salute were printed in the pages of Youth's Companion. Coincidentally, and unfortunately, the salute resembled that of the ancient Roman Empire's tribute to Caesar … which decades later in the early 1920s was adopted as the official greeting of Benito Mussolini's Fascists, which was then adapted by Adolf Hitler and to this day is known as the Nazi or Hitler salute.
It is disconcerting to see American children offering the salute, given what we know about the symbolism of the gesture. But seeing this conflict in the making, on Dec. 22, 1942, Congress passed the amended Flag Code Section 7, which decreed that the Pledge of Allegiance should "be rendered by standing with the right hand over the heart."