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The Alaska Flag
More than 30 years before Alaska was to become a state, the Alaska Department of the American Legion sponsored a territorial contest for Alaska children in grades seven through twelve. A flag was needed to represent the future state of Alaska and somebody thought it would be a good idea to tap into the creativity of these kids.
Contest rules were circulated throughout the Alaska Territory in January, 1927. The rules stipulated that the first stage of the competition would take place at a local level. Each town would set up a panel of judges that would determine the ten best local designs and forward these to Juneau where the final competition would take place. A total of 142 designs were forwarded to Juneau.
Several interesting concepts were represented, and eventually rejected, in the submissions reviewed by the Juneau Flag Committee. All of these concepts were rejected as too specific to one or another certain aspect of the vast Alaska Territory. A couple of designs centered around Polar Bears. One design displayed a Polar Bear on an iceberg. Another had a Polar Bear balancing at the top of the globe. Others depicted imagery representing the fishing and mining industries of Alaska. About 1/3 of the entries centered around the territorial seal.
Benny Benson’s Alaska state flag contest entry
Courtesy: Alaska State Museums
The winner of the contest was a seventh grade Aleut student, thirteen year old John Bell (Benny) Benson from Chignik. He was living in an orphanage in Seward, the Jesse Lee Mission Home, at the time of the contest.
He designed the present Alaska State Flag with a blue background to represent the sky and the Forget-me-not flower. On that background were placed eight gold stars to represent the Big Dipper and the North Star. The Big Dipper forms part of the constellation Ursa Major or Great Bear; symbolizing strength.* The North Star represents the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. Benny’s simple, elegant design was adopted by the Alaska Territorial Legislature in May, 1927.
For his efforts, Benny received first prize, a gold watch that was engraved with his flag design. In addition, the Alaska Legislature awarded Benny $1,000 toward a trip to Washington, D.C. to present the Alaska Flag to President Calvin Coolidge. Unfortunately, the trip to Washington never took place due to prior commitments of the President. Though Benny never made it to Washington, his territorial flag became the Official “State” Flag when Alaska joined the Union in 1959. The Alaska Legislature decided to apply Benny’s award of $1,000 to his education. Benny chose to study diesel mechanics.
Alaska state flag
[ LARGE PRINT [ LARGER PRINT ] [ COLOR ME ] In 1967, the state of Alaska adopted “North to the Future” as its Official State Motto linking its geographic position with the bright future prospects of the northernmost state.
In January 17, 2002, at the opening of the Alaska State Museums exhibit commemorating the 75th anniversary of the flag’s adoption, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmar paid tribute to Benny Benson.
“Benny Benson made a tremendous impact on Alaska history when he submitted his entry that featured the Big Dipper and the North Star. 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.”
Benny’s contribution has been honored by the city of Anchorage, where you could find yourself walking down Benson Boulevard and Kodiak, where you could find yourself walking down Benny Benson Drive. The Benny Benson Secondary School, in Anchorage, is a S.A.V.E. II school (Specialized Academic and Vocational Education), specializing in a Work-Study Educational Program for High School Students.
The following information was excerpted from the Alaska Statutes, Title 44, Chapter 9.
TITLE 44. STATE GOVERNMENT.
CHAPTER 9. STATE SEAL, FLAG, AND EMBLEMS.
Sec. 44.09.020. State flag.
The design of the official flag is eight gold stars in a field of blue, so selected for its simplicity, its originality, and its symbolism. The blue, one of the national colors, typifies the evening sky, the blue of the sea and of mountain lakes, and of wild flowers that grow in Alaskan soil, the gold being significant of the wealth that lies hidden in Alaska’s hills and streams.
The stars, seven of which form the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the most conspicuous constellation in the northern sky, contains the stars which form the “Dipper,” including the “Pointers” which point toward the eighth star in the flag, Polaris, the North Star, the ever constant star for the mariner, the explorer, hunter, trapper, prospector, woodsman, and the surveyor. For Alaska the northernmost star in the galaxy of stars and which at some future time will take its place as the forty-ninth star in the national emblem.
The flag of the Territory of Alaska is the official flag of the state. The standard proportions and size graphically delineated herein shall be used in the manufacture of the official flag of Alaska. The stars shall be the color of natural yellow gold and the field of blue shall be of the same shade of blue used in the official manufacture of the national emblem of the United States. The design, standard proportions, and size are as follows:
Sec. 44.09.030. Display of flags.
(a) The official flag of the state shall be displayed with the flag of the United States only from sunrise to sunset, or between the hours designated by proper authority. However, the flag may be displayed after sunset upon special occasions when it is desired to produce a patriotic effect.
(b) The flag of the United States and the flag of the State of Alaska shall be displayed daily, weather permitting, in the following places:
(1) on or near the main administration building of every institution under the authority or control of the state government;
(2) in or near every schoolhouse during school days.
The history of Alaska dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period (around 14,000 BC), when Siberian groups crossed the Bering land bridge into what is now western Alaska. At the time of European contact by the Russian explorers, the area was populated by Alaska Native groups. The name “Alaska” derives from the Aleut word Alaxsxaq (also spelled Alyeska), meaning “mainland” (literally, “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed”).
In the 1890s, gold rushes in Alaska and the nearby Yukon Territory brought thousands of settlers to Alaska.
In 1942, two of the outer Aleutian Islands—Attu and Kiska—were occupied by the Japanese and their recovery for the U.S. became a matter of national pride. The construction of military bases contributed to the population growth of some Alaskan cities.
Alaska was granted statehood on January 3, 1959.
In 1964, the massive “Good Friday Earthquake” killed some people and one dog and leveled several villages.
The 1968 discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay and the 1977 completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline led to an oil boom. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound, spilling between 11 and 400 billion US gallons (42,000 and 130,000 m³) of crude oil over 1,100 miles (1,600 km) of coastline. Today, the battle between philosophies of development and conservation is seen in the contentious debate over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.