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What Is the History of Alaska's State Flag?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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An orphan boy designed Alaska’s state flag in 1927, when Alaska was still a United States territory and long before it officially became a state in 1959. John Ben Benson, more commonly known as Benny Benson, was 13 when he submitted his drawing to a children’s contest arranged by the territorial governor, who was seeking a design for the territory’s flag. The seventh grader submitted several entries, and he discovered one of them won the contest when a telegram came to his schoolroom at a Seward orphanage.

Alaska’s state flag depicts the unique beauty Benny Benson saw in his homeland. Inspired by the stars in the sky — the Big Dipper and the North Star — and the forget-me-nots growing in fields, the boy drew his first entry. It became the winner out of more than the 700 that were submitted by children in grades seven through 12.

The sky and the forget-me-nots are symbolized by the blue background color. The stars are depicted in gold. The North Star stands for the fact that Alaska would become the northernmost state when it was eventually admitted to the union. The Big Dipper, also known as Ursa Major, stands for the state’s strength. Ursa Major also is called the Great Bear.

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Gold, the color of the eight stars on Alaska’s state flag, stands for wealth. Alaska is fortunate to have many riches, including the mines that sparked a gold rush in the late 1800s. The state also has a bounty of wildlife living within its interior and marine life along its shores.

Benny Benson was paid handsomely for his artistic effort. He received $1,000 US Dollars (USD) and a gold watch. On the back of the watch was an engraving of his winning design for Alaska’s state flag, and later in life he gave it to a state-run museum. He used the money to continue his education when he was older. He also had the pleasure of seeing his design flown as a real flag for the first time in 1927. The only thing missing from his original design is the year 1867, the year the United States bought Alaska from Russia, which officials decided to exclude.

The forget-me-not has been designated the state’s official flower. There are different kinds of the forget-me-not that grow in Alaska, but only one, the blue alpine variety, is the official flower. The perennial grows wild in many sites throughout the state.

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matthewc23
Post 4

@kentuckycat - You are absolutely correct. I have taught classes to younger children and whenever we talk about states I am sure to include the story of the creation of the Alaskan state flag.

They always seem to be very interested in hearing the story of the student and the meaning behind the stars on the flag.

Although the design is so simple the design depicts something that is important to people and definitely reflects the history of the state of Alaska and how the stars originally got people to the area known as Alaska and it has now come full circle as it is now a largely settled and government controlled area and no longer the wilderness it once was.

kentuckycat
Post 3

I find the design of the flag to be so appropriate and wish that other states would follow suite and not just try and create a standard design for their state flags.

I have seen other flags of various states and have noticed that these states follow a similar pattern. They look for something that looks official as opposed to something that reflects the state or the people of the state. This is definitely not what is happening in the state flag of Alaska as it is such an interesting and unique design that I feel that people treasure this flag and feel great pride in calling this their state flag.

The story behind it too allows for someone to

think back that a little boy, an ordinary citizen and life long Alaskan, drew this from the heart and had the genius enough to create something so simple but so powerful at the same time.

This allows for something that cannot be conjured up in a state flag as the story behind its creation is so great and the meaning of the flag is so powerful.

jmc88
Post 2

@Izzy78 - Absolutely. I find Alaska's unique story behind their state flag to stand out when compared to other state flags simply due to the fact that it was created by a very young person, as well as it is so simple, but depicts the state very well.

Although Alaska makes for great star gazing, Ursa Major and the North Star depict something very important to Alaskans.

Since Alaska is seen as a center of Northwest wilderness these stars are used as guides by people traveling or exploring the Alaskan frontier. In a way using this design on the flag makes the absolute most perfect sense and reflects the culture and history of Alaska so well as people have used and relied on these stars so often over the centuries that people have called Alaska home.

Izzy78
Post 1

I have always found the Alaskan state flag to be one of the most unique state flags among the state's in the Union, which also has a very unique history in itself.

The state flag of Alaska reflects the state well and shows something that people can always think of if they have ever been to Alaska.

The skies of Alaska make for the best star gazing and because of this the design of the flag makes sense and allows for the culture of Alaska to make perfect sense as compared to some other states.

Also, the history surrounding the state flag, that it was conceived by a young man is quite a story in itself and I find it to be a very heart warming story.

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