The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister in Boston who was prominent in the Christian Socialist movement of the time.
Bellamy was also an official in the National Education Association, the teachers' union, and he created the Pledge as part of a school flag-raising ceremony to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America.
Bellamy's original words were:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
He considered adding the word "equality" to stand with "liberty and justice," but he reasoned that the implication of equal rights for women and blacks would be too controversial.
The first draft of the Pledge was published in the Sept. 8, 1892, issue of The Youth's Companion, a popular family magazine. Daniel Ford, the Companion's publisher, had hired Bellamy after Bellamy had been forced from the pulpit for his socialist sermons.
The Pledge was reprinted on leaflets and distributed nationwide, with later versions repeating the preposition "to" before "the Republic." Twelve million schoolchildren recited it for the first time one month later on Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1892.
From that point on, the Pledge was used by schoolchildren to salute the flag, though only in an unofficial capacity for several decades.
The original gesture when reciting the Pledge was not the current right hand held over the heart, but the "Roman salute" — a movement of the right hand away from the heart until it pointed away from the body. That fell out of favor when the Fascists in Italy and later the Nazis in Germany adopted the same salute.
In 1924, concerned that immigrants would actually be saluting the flags of their home countries, the American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution pressured the National Flag Conference to replace the words "my flag" with "the Flag of the United States of America." Bellamy, still alive, was not happy about the change.
The Pledge now read:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In 1942, soon after America entered World War II, Congress officially endorsed the Pledge of Allegiance and instituted the current hand-over-heart gesture. One year later, however, the Supreme Court ruled that schoolchildren could not be forced to recite the Pledge.
In 1954, under pressure from the Knights of Columbus and other religious groups, Congress officially added the words "under God" to the Pledge, so that it currently reads:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Several variations of the Pledge are in use by groups espousing differing social and political principles. Pro-life activists sometimes add the words "born and unborn" to the end of the sentence, while liberals will often add Bellamy's original "equality."
Last fall, actor Tom Hanks created a stir when he recited the Pledge on a televised Sept. 11 fundraiser and omitted the phrase "under God."
Sources: Dr. John W. Baer, The Pledge of Allegiance: A Short History; The American Legion.