Why the Americans didn’t salute Hitler

08 Jul

Look at this picture taken in 1942 and what do you see?

It may look like these kids are saluting Hitler or Mussolini, but they’re actually American kids reciting their Pledge of Allegiance.

The pledge was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, and published in a children’s magazine called “The Youth’s Companion”.  The pledge was written as part of a campaign to sell flags to schools and was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas.

The magazine decided to try and create a national Columbian Public School Celebration and Bellamy chaired a committee tasked with spreading the word.  The pledge was only part of a ceremony Bellamy devised for children to salute the flag, he also devised what became known as the “Bellamy Salute” which he described thusly:

“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

It was not until three decades later that the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis adopted a similar salute based on the Roman style, which caused confusion during the outbreak of WWII as anti-interventionist Americans saw pictures of them doing the Bellamy Salute used as propaganda to show they supported the Nazis (Charles Lindbergh among the more high profile victims).

In June 1942 the USA officially adopted the Pledge of Allegiance, and in December that year they changed the salute to the one we recognise today (hand over heart).


Posted by on Friday 8th July 2011 in History


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4 responses to “Why the Americans didn’t salute Hitler

  1. findingeve

    Friday 8th July 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Could you give a bit more information on the photo? Location, etc.? 🙂

    PS: This is sjb.

    • CB27

      Friday 8th July 2011 at 11:34 pm

      Not sure which school, but it’s from a school in Southington, Connecticut. The photo is available from the Library of Congress. Welcome aboard 🙂

  2. findingeve

    Saturday 9th July 2011 at 12:23 am

    Thanks! I wonder if the Bellamy salute was at all regionalized. I can’t remember coming across it anywhere here in the upper South (or the lower Midwest). Bellamy was from New York, Connecticut’s neighbor. Although, I’ve just seen a photo of the Bellamy salute in Hawai’i (1941). And another from New York (1915). And another from Los Angeles (c. late 1930s). This seems to be the beginning of the Bellamy salute before extension of the arm (1899, unknown location):

    Hmm, interesting! 🙂

  3. availhosting reviews

    Sunday 7th August 2011 at 4:53 pm

    An interesting read, thanks.


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