Alaska October 18, 2017
Most People Don’t Know The Story Behind Alaska’s Flag And The 13-Year Old Boy Who Created It
Benny Benson was just a boy when he designed the Alaska State Flag. In early 1926, Territorial Governor George Parks was on a trip to Washington, D.C. when he saw the flags of the 48 states flying outside the old Post Office Building and he was convinced that Alaska needed a flag that would wave with the others.
At the urging of the Governor, the Alaska Department of the American Legion sponsored a territory-wide contest for Alaskan children in grades seven through twelve to design a flag.
Benny Benson lived with his brother Carl at the Jesse Lee Home in Seward and was in seventh grade. He heard about the contest and thought about it that night as he gazed out the window at the stars of the Big Dipper.
John Ben "Benny" Benson, Jr. was 3 years old when his mother passed away when a terrible sickness ravaged their village of Chignik. Her name was Tatiana Schebolein and she was of Aleut-Russian descent. His father was John Ben Benson, Swedish-American, and he couldn't care for all three of the young children alone. Their sister was sent to Seattle and Benny and his brother Carl were sent to live in the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska. They remained there with hundreds of displaced Aleut orphans until the home, and the children, relocated to Seward in 1925.
Benny's design for the flag was the constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper and North Star) on a blue background. He painted the blue flag on another piece of construction paper and glued it to the final design.
A photo of Benny Benson is attached (probably after the design was submitted) to the upper right corner. The description reads: 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, symbolising strenth [strength].
The iconic Alaskan photo of Benny Benson holding his flag. The first flag constructed based on Benny's design was made of blue silk and appliquéd gold stars. It was flown for the first time on July 9, 1927.
Benny won the contest with his entry from a pool of over 100 entries and was given $1000.00 to travel to Washington and present the flag to the President of the U.S. He was a unanimous winner by the panel of judges and by May of 1927, the flag design was unanimously adopted by the two houses of the territorial legislature. The trip to Washington never happened and the funds were instead set aside for his future education.
Benny Benson, Governor William Egan and Benny Benson's daughter Charlotte Benson pose for a photo with the Alaska flag in the 1950's.
Benny Benson began life in the tiny village of Chignik, moved to Unalaska, to Seward, to Seattle and then to Kodiak. Benny used his educational funds to attend Hemphill Diesel Engineering School in Seattle and returned to Alaska to become an airplane mechanic for Kodiak Airways. He passed away in 1972 as an honored Alaskan and was survived by many children, stepchildren and grandchildren.
This banner commemorates Benny Benson and his achievement and was hung at the Jesse Lee Home in Seward for many years.
The flag was dedicated on July 8, 1927, at the Jesse Lee Home, and it was there Benson received his first place watch.
When Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, Benny Benson’s territorial flag became the official state flag. There is a Benny Benson Memorial located at Mile 1.4 of the Seward Highway in Seward, Alaska.
Benny Benson's flag has waved proudly as symbol for the last frontier for nearly 100 years. Happy Alaska Day!
The Alaska State Flag waves proudly every day, and especially on October 18, Alaska Day, the commemoration of the territory changing hands from Russia to the U.S. on October 18, 1867. There are also some celebrations around the state annually on July 9, the day the Alaska state flag was first flown.
Hear a beautiful version of the
Alaska Flag Song here, the state song about the bold and meaningful flag invented by Benny Benson, a important historical figure in Alaska.
10 Staggering Photos Of An Abandoned Orphanage Hiding In Alaska, the Jesse Lee Home where Benny lived when he created the flag.
Do you know anything else about Benny Benson’s story? Tell us about it in the comments below.