Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean

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Cover of sheet music for a circa 1862 publication of "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"
Performed by the United States Navy Band

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"Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" is a United States patriotic song which was popular during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, especially during the Civil War era.[1] It may have functioned as an unofficial national anthem in competition with "Hail, Columbia" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" until the latter's formal adoption as the national anthem of the United States in 1931. For many years the song's melody was used as the Voice of America's interval signal.

Sheet music version

History[edit]

"Columbia" was a common poetic nickname for the United States of America in the 19th century. Graphically, in illustrations and cartoons, the United States was often represented by a heroic female figure named Columbia, dressed in flag-like bunting. Other nations used similar figures, notably the French Marianne, and the British Britannia.

Historical sources generally agree that in the autumn of 1843 an actor named David T. Shaw wanted a new patriotic song to sing at a benefit performance. He gained the assistance of a fellow performer, Thomas á Becket, Sr. (1808-1890), who wrote the lyrics and melody for him. Evidently, Shaw published the song under his own name, but Becket was able to prove his authorship by means of his original handwritten composition.[2] There remains some disagreement as to whether other versions of the song predated Becket's composition or followed it. The British version of this anthem, "Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean," was first published in 1852, nine years after the American version was first published. There is no actual evidence it predated the American version.

Cultural influence[edit]

The tune was used repeatedly by the composer Charles Ives, featuring notably in his Second Symphony and A Symphony: New England Holidays as well as in his Piano Sonata No. 2.

The melody from "Columbia", along with other traditional songs, is included in "American Patrol", a popular march written by F. W. Meacham in 1885. Originally intended for piano, it was later arranged for the swing band of Glenn Miller.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The song is featured in the film Amistad (1997).
  • The song is sung at the 4th of July celebration in the film The Music Man (1962).
  • The song is rehearsed by schoolchildren of 1881 in "No Time Like the Past," a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone.
  • The first line is sung a capella by Bruno Kirby in the film Donnie Brasco (1997).
  • An instrumental version of the song frequently marks Popeye's consumption of spinach.
  • The song was played by the "Columbia, New Hampshire, High School marching band" in The West Wing's third series episode where President Josiah Bartlet is preparing to announce his bid for reelection. It was also being played in the background just before President Bartlet was sworn in for his second term.
  • The song can be heard in the title screen of Epyx's computer game Destroyer.
  • The song is the last song heard in the 1944 Warner Bros. cartoon, The Weakly Reporter, used for a scene depicting a ship launch by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser.
  • The last sentence of the song is played as the background music in the cartoon Daffy – The Commando, while Daffy Duck was being shot by Von Vulture as a "human cannonball", flying to Berlin and hitting Adolf Hitler in the head with a mallet .
  • Carole Lombard can be heard singing a snippet of the song as she writes a letter outside the doctor's office in 1939's Made for Each Other.

Lyrics[edit]

O Columbia! the gem of the ocean,
The home of the brave and the free,
The shrine of each patriot's devotion,
A world offers homage to thee;
Thy mandates make heroes assemble,
When Liberty's form stands in view;
Thy banners make tyranny tremble,
When borne by the red, white, and blue.
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
Thy banners make tyranny tremble,
When borne by the red, white and blue.


When war wing'd its wide desolation,
And threaten'd the land to deform,
The ark then of freedom's foundation,
Columbia rode safe thro' the storm;
With her garlands of vict'ry around her,
When so proudly she bore her brave crew;
With her flag proudly waving before her,
The boast of the red, white and blue.
The boast of the red, white and blue,
The boast of the red, white, and blue,
With her flag proudly floating before her,
The boast of the red, white and blue.


The Union, the Union forever,
Our glorious nation's sweet hymn,
May the wreaths it has won never wither,
Nor the stars of its glory grow dim,
May the service united ne'er sever,
But they to their colors prove true.
The Army and Navy forever,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue.
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue,
The Army and Navy for ever,
Three cheers for the red, white and blue.


(A slightly different third verse)

The star spangled banner bring hither,
O'er Columbia's true sons let it wave;
May the wreaths they have won never wither,
Nor its stars cease to shine on the brave.
May thy service united ne'er sever,
But hold to the colors so true;
The Army and Navy forever,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!
The Army and Navy forever,
Three cheers for the red, white, and blue

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ace Collins, Songs Sung Red, White and Blue, New York: Harper Collins, 2003, pp. 70-74.
  2. ^ Paul Holsinger, editor, War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999, p. 67

External links[edit]