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About the Alaska Flag
By the 1920's, Alaskans were becoming anxious for statehood. They had the population, they had the industry, but they needed a flag. In 1926, the Alaska Department of the American Legion set out to find the territory a symbol. They announced a flag design contest, limiting entrants to Alaskan children enrolled in grades seven through twelve. The judging committee rejected many designs, including a polar bear on an iceberg, because they perpetuated the image of Alaska as a frozen wasteland.
The winning entry was submitted by John Bell (Benny) Benson, a 13-year old living in an orphanage in Seward, Alaska. Benny's design earned him a gold watch engraved with the flag he designed, $1,000 for school, and a trip to Washington, DC to present the new Alaska flag to President Calvin Coolidge. Although Benny never did make the trip, his flag was adopted by Alaska's Territorial Legislature as the state's official flag in May of 1927. The original flag was made of dark blue silk appliquéd with gold stars depicting the Big Dipper and the North Star. It was flown for the first time on July 8, 1927. When Alaska joined the Union as our 49th state in 1959, Benny's flag became the official state flag of Alaska.
Benny offered this explanation of his flag's symbolism, which he included along with the sketch he submitted to the American Legion contest: "The blue is for the Alaskan sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear - symbolizing strength." The handle of the Big Dipper is also the tail of the constellation Ursa Major, or Great Bear; the Big Dipper's cup is the Great Bear's flank. The forget-me-not would one day become the Alaska state flower.
Benny Benson, part Swede and part Russian Aleut, was born in Chignik, Alaska and was raised in Unalaska and later in Seward. He spent most of his life in Kodiak. There is a memorial to Benson along the Seward Highway. In Anchorage you will find Benny Benson Boulevard as well a secondary school named in his honor. Another tribute was paid to Benny at the opening of the Alaska State Museum exhibit to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Alaskan flag. "Benny Benson made a tremendous impact on Alaska history when he submitted his entry that featured the Big Dipper and the North Star," said Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer. "His story is a wonderful example of how one young person can really make a difference. The flag story continues to remind us of the importance of listening to the ideas and opinions of young people."
In 1935, an employee of the Alaska Department of Education named Marie Drake, wrote a poem entitled "Alaska's Flag" as part of a news story on Benny Benson. Composer Elinor Dusenbury set the poem to music and in 1955 the Territorial Legislature adopted "Alaska's Flag" as the state song.
Alaska State Flag
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