The Surprising Origin of Alaska’s Flag
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There are numerous connections between Alaska’s flag and other pieces of Alaskan history, and the origin of its design might surprise you.
Keep reading to learn what a 13-year-old boy, a territory-wide contest, and a forget-me-not flower have to do with Alaska’s flag.
Alaska wasn’t yet a state—they didn’t become one until 1959—but they were a territory with a strong identity. After being purchased by the United States from Russia, Alaska had exclusively flown the United States.
The story of this flag began when Alaska ran a contest to design a territory flag in the year 1929. Schoolchildren in grades 7–12 were allowed to participate in this contest.
Over 700 children entered, submitting designs showcasing on the territory’s character with depictions of the Northern lights, polar bears, gold pans, and the midnight sun—all strong representations of what made the land special.
Among the entrants was Benny Benson, a 13-year-old native of Seward, Alaska. Benny was an orphan, and every night before he went to sleep he looked at the stars. His favorite constellation was the Big Dipper.
When Benny designed his flag, he thought about Alaska’s night sky and the familiar constellation.
The end result was simple in nature, but powerful. When he submitted his flag, he included this description:
“The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear—symbolizing strength.”
The judges praised Benson’s design for “its simplicity, its originality and its symbolism.” And after careful consideration, it was determined the contest’s winner. Benny won $1,000 and an engraved watch for his efforts, and the flag was adopted as the official flag for the Territory of Alaska on May 2, 1927.
When Alaska became a state in 1959, Benson’s flag became the official Alaska state flag.
Benson’s flag is intimately tied to several pieces of Alaskan history.
The blue field’s symbolism (Benson used it to signify Alaska’s forget-me-not flowers) was considered when Alaska’s legislature decided to name the forget-me-not flower the official flower of Alaska.
Alaska’s flag design also inspired a song—“Alaska’s Flag”. Written by two women, the song explains the flag’s various symbols and meaning.
“Eight stars of gold on a field of blue
Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The “Bear,” the “Dipper,” and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O’er land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska’s flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.”
“Alaska’s flag” was adopted as the official song of Alaska when it reached statehood in 1959.
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