John Ben "Benny" Benson, Jr. (October 12, 1913 – July 2, 1972) was the Aleut boy who designed the flag of Alaska. Benny was 13 when he won a contest in 1927 to design the flag for the territory of Alaska, which became a U.S. state in 1959.
Benny Benson was born in Chignik, Alaska, to a Swedish father and Aleut-Russian mother. When he was 3 years old, his mother died, forcing his father to send him and his brother Carl to an orphanage, as Benny's father could not take care of them. Benny grew up at the Jesse Lee Children's Home in Unalaska and later in Seward.
After graduating from high school in 1932, Benny left the Jesse Lee Home. He returned to the Aleutian Islands to work with his father at a fox farm at Ugaiushak Island. The rate for furs began to decline, so Benny moved to Seattle in 1936. He used his prize money of $1,000 to enroll in the Hemphill Diesel Engineering School for diesel engine repair. In 1938, Benson married Betty Van Hise. The couple's first child, Anna May, was born in October 1938. Their second daughter, Charlotte Abbot, was born in June 1940. Benson divorced in 1950 and moved with his daughters to Kodiak where he became an airplane mechanic for Kodiak Airways.
Benny met his sister in the mid 1950s, 30 years after their separation. His sister died soon after. His brother Carl also died in 1965. Benson's right leg had to be amputated in 1969 due to an injury. Shortly after that, in 1972, he met and married a former Jesse Lee Home resident, Anna Sophie Jenks. Benson had several stepchildren and grandchildren. He died of a heart attack in Kodiak at the age of 58.
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. Benny's design 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. His 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. For his achievement, Benny was awarded $1,000, an engraved watch and a trip to Washington D.C.
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, 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.||”|
- Potter, Velma Moos (1989). God Flies Benny's Flag : A story of Benny Benson & Alaska's state flag. Seattle: Frontier Publishing. ISBN 0-939116-20-0.
- Benny Benson - Alaska's Flag
- "Alaska State Flag, and Song, Intertwined Around Benny Benson"
- "The Alaska State Flag"