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.Benny Benson
The Alaska flag was raised for the first time on July 9, 1927. The occasion was the dedication of new buildings at the Jesse Lee Home in Seward. Here’s how the reporter for The Seward Gateway newspaper described it:
“Benny Benson, thirteen-year-old boy at the Jesse Lee Home, designer of the flag, attached it to the halyards below the National emblem and stood at attention while the multicolored folds of Old Glory and the deep violet blue of Alaska’s official emblem, studded with golden stars of the big dipper pointing to the North Star, fluttered about him.”
Earlier that year Benson had entered an Alaska-wide competition for students in grades seven through twelve. It was sponsored by the American Legion. From the time of the purchase of Alaska from Russia only the American flag had flown over the territory. Benson’s design was chosen from 700 entries. He was awarded $1000 and an engraved watch. With his entry he submitted the following explanation of the design:
“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 contest rules called for 8½ x 11-inch paper, color or plain ink. Each community formed a panel to select the 10 best entries, which were then forwarded to the final committee in Juneau.
Benson’s original design include the year “1867” at the bottom of the flag, but the committee judging the entries removed that.
The original flag was made of silk with aplliqued gold stars. As the flag began to appear in large numbers around the territory Benson took pains to ensure the integrity of his original design. In his later years he sewed custom, autographed Alaska flags for legislators, dignitaries, and for each Miss Alaska.
Benny Benson was born in Chignik in 1913. His Aleut mother died when he was three and his father, a Swede, put Benny and his sister in the Jesse Lee Home, which was located in Unalaska. In 1925 the home moved to Seward.
Benson spent most of his adult life in Kodiak. He worked as a mechanic at Kodiak Airways and raised two daughters and several stepchildren. He died in 1972 of a heart attack at the age of 58.