The flag of the state of Alaska consists of eight gold stars, forming the Big Dipper and the North Star, on a dark blue field. The Big Dipper is an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major which symbolizes a bear, an animal indigenous to Alaska. As depicted on the flag, its stars can be used as a guide by the novice to locate Polaris and determine true north, which varies considerably from a magnetic north.
More than 30 years before Alaska was to become a state, the Alaska Department of the American Legion sponsored a territorial contest for Alaskan children in grades seven through twelve. Winning the contest in 1927, the design of Benny Benson, a 13-year-old Alaska Native residing at the Jesse Lee Home for Children in Seward, was chosen to represent the future of the Alaska Territory. Up to that time, Alaskans had flown only the U.S. flag since the territory was purchased from Russia in 1867. Benson's design was chosen over roughly 700 other submissions from schoolchildren territory-wide in grades 7–12. Most other entries featured variations on the territorial seal, the midnight sun, the northern lights, polar bears, and/or gold pans. To celebrate his achievement, Benson was awarded US$1,000 and an engraved watch.
Benny looked to the sky for the symbols he included in his design. Choosing the familiar constellation he looked for every night before going to sleep at the orphanage, he submitted this description with it:
"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 Alaska Legislature adopted Benson's design as the official flag for the Territory of Alaska on May 2, 1927. The first flag made based on Benny's design was made of blue silk and appliquéd gold stars, and was inaugurally flown July 9, 1927. It was retained as the state flag upon statehood in 1959.
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