...In 1804 (English inventer William Congreve) realized that rockets exert no reactive force -- none of the "kick" of a cannon. That especially suited them to use at sea.
After failed tests against French shore installations, Congreve managed to burn most of the city of Copenhagen -- a hapless bystander in the Napoleonic Wars. From then on, English rockets played an important part in war against the French.
But, in the War of 1812, England turned the full fury of Congreve's rockets on us -- from Bangor, Maine, all the way to New Orleans. It was Congreve's rockets that burned Washington in 1814...
The English also tried to take Baltimore, but they failed when their rockets couldn't take out Fort McHenry, guarding the city.
-via John H. Lienhard -University of Houston
The lyric bombs bursting in air comes from Defence of Fort McHenry, a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the Chesapeake Bay by the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812 (1812-1815).
Key had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes, a civilian prisoner of war, and witnessed the bombardment from a nearby truce ship. From 7 am. of September 13, 1814 more than 1,800 bombs, cannonballs, and the new Congreve rockets had lit the sky. Key had observed that the fort’s smaller 'storm flag' continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered and a larger flag had been raised. (An oversized American flag, 40’x30’ had been sewn in anticipation of the British attack on the fort.)
Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort, infact so moved as to write a poem using the back of a letter he had in his pocket. He later completed the poem and entitled it Defence of Fort McHenry. This would be renamed The Star-Spangled Banner.