13 Year Old Designs Alaskas State Flag

Question: 

I'm helping my son with a school project and am trying to find info on the 13 year old who designed Alaska's state flag, Benny Benson .Can't find much info on him, do you have any? Thanks!  JTB
 

Answer: 

I don't really have any more information, except that I understand the contest for his winning entry was sponsored by the American Legion and that he had a lighter blue in his design.  I have no source for this information.  Also, I talked to someone in my store who knew him, and they said he was quite a promoter of Alaska, the Alaskan flag, and that he also wrote songs about Alaska including one he proposed as the Alaskan state song.  Again, this is second hand without a source.  Lee L. Herold

...and...

I don't know much about Benny Benson, but here's what I do know.

Benny Benson, a Native American, was 13 in 1926 when he designed the Alaska flag.  He was then a student at the Mission Territorial School near Seward.  His design was the winning entry in a Territorial Flag contest, for which he received $1,000 voted by the legislature to further his education.  He later became a fisherman. His sketch and the original flag made from it are now in the Alaska Historical Museum in Juneau.  ("Flag Book of the United States" by Whitney Smith [Morrow & Co., New York, 1970], pg. 103.)

I suggest you might write to the school and to the museum cited above for more details on Benny.  If you find out more, we would very much appreciate knowing what your research reveals so that we can all benefit. Thanks.  Dave Martucci

(We recently received the following updates on the Benny Benson story...Ed)

Dave--

I haven't looked at the NAVA web page since I came back from Victoria, but I've finally got a few vacation days and I've been reading it all.  It really _is_ great.

In one of the recent Q&A's was a question about the Alaska flag.  There was no e-mail address so I don't know how to give an additional response, so I'll tell you.

The definitive book is called "God Flies Benny's Flag" by Velma Moos Potter, 1989.  My copy is a paperback--I thought I got it in Juneau, but I haven't been to Alaska since the mid-80's, so I probably got it in Seattle.  It is from Frontier Publishing , 322 Queen Anne Avenue, North, Seattle, WA 98109. (ISBN: 0-939116-20-0)

It is 235 pages and is a well-researched biography of that boy and the man he became.  Ms. Potter is a retired librarian who had found it annoying in earlier years that she couldn't readily get information beyond the basics: designed by a 13 year schoolboy in an orphanage.  When she retired she researched and here it is.  Not the tightest writing, but well worth it.

The questioner might want to try to find the publisher or look for it on alibris.com (I haven't had the time yet).

--Jack Lowe

(FOTW provided the following information, which was originally posted on their site.  We thank them for their courtesy...Ed)

Appended two quick items I previously posted on the old FOTW bulletin board.

I am attaching a message I posted on the Flags bulletin board a while back.  Benny Benson died in Kodiak, Alaska on July 2, 1972.  I believe he is buried there.  he book -God Flies Benny's Flag- was available in many places in Alaska and could be ordered by any bookstore--I believe it' s still in print. ----Jack

I also have a question myself.  I read that the flags of Kiribati and Nauru were the winners of design competitions.  Have any other flags been designed in similar circumstances?

It is well known here in the States that at the time of the admission of Alaska to the Union in 1960, a design competition was held for their state flag that was won by a schoolboy for which I believe he received a nominal sum of money and the enduring admiration of students everywhere.  The winning entry is the now familiar small cluster of gold stars on a blue field.

The Alaska state flag was designed by John Bell (Benny) Benson, a thirteen year-old in an orphanage in response to a contest sponsored by the Alaska Department of the American Legion.  The prize was awarded in 1927.  The flag was adopted by the Territorial Legislature in May, 1927 as Alaska's official flag.  The flag is dark blue, with eight five-pointed gold stars in the shape of the constellation Ursa Major (the great bear--also known as the "big dipper") and a larger gold star representing the pole star, Polaris.  When Alaska entered the Union in 1959, the territorial flag became the state flag.  All the designs for the contest, as well as Benny's prize--a gold watch engraved with the flag--are in the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.  He did also win a $1000 trip to Washington, D.C.. to present the flag to President Coolidge, but never went because first his father was ill, and then President Coolidge was out of the country, so the $1000 was put to his education instead.  Benny also picked the forget-me-not as the territorial (later state) flower.  (Source: _God Flies Benny's Flag_ by Velma Moos Potter, Frontier Publishing, Seattle, 1989)
 

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