January 3, 1959: Welcome, Alaska, and the 49-star flag — 55 years ago

January 3, 2015

Alaska Territorial Gov. Bob Bartlett in center, with the 49-star flag (Bartlett was one of Alaska's first U.S. senators).

Alaska Territorial Gov. Bob Bartlett in center, with the 49-star flag (Bartlett was one of Alaska’s first U.S. senators).

The great service at the New York Times site, the Learning Network, notes the 1959 Dwight Eisenhower proclamation of Alaska as the 49th state, and the unveiling of the 49-star flag:

On Jan. 3, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska to the Union as the 49th state. The New York Times noted that the signing included the unveiling of the new 49-star American flag.

The land that became Alaska came into U.S. possession in 1867, when William Seward, secretary of state under President Andrew Johnson, negotiated a deal to buy the 586,000-square-mile area from Russia for $7.2 million, less than 2 cents per acre. Seward’s decision was ridiculed in the American press, who saw no potential in the vast, inhospitable and sparsely populated area.

For decades after its purchase, Alaska was derided as “Seward’s folly” or “Seward’s icebox.” This opinion changed in 1896 with the discovery of gold in the neighboring Yukon Territory, which spurred tens of thousands of people to head to Alaska in search of gold. The gold rush also brought about a boom in mining, fishing and trapping.

Though the first statehood bill had been presented to Congress in 1916, there was little desire in either Alaska or Washington for Alaskan statehood until after World War II. During the war, the U.S. established multiple military bases to resist Japan’s attacks on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and prevent a potential invasion of the mainland. The military activity, along with the completion of a major highway from Montana, led to a large population growth.

In 1946, Alaskans voted in favor of statehood in a referendum and Alaskan delegates began to lobby Congress for statehood. After years of debate, Congress voted in June 1958 to admit Alaska.

Eight months after Alaska’s admission, on Aug. 21, 1957 [should be 1959, no?], Hawaii became the 50th state. The 49-star remained in place until the following July 4, when it was replaced by the now-familiar 50-star flag.

49-star flags were produced only until August 1959, so there are few of them around.  I love this photo of the unveiling of the flag with President Eisenhower:

President Eisenhower and Quartermaster General MG Andrew T. McNamara, with 49-star flag - image from QM foundation

“Quartermaster General MG Andrew T. McNamara and President Eisenhower examine new 49 star flag” – image and caption from the Quartermaster Foundation. (Who are the other two people?  The guy on the right looks to me a bit like is Pennsylvania’s Sen. Hugh Scott.)

It had been about 47 years since the previous state admission (Arizona); people became aware that no law set what the flag should look like.  President Eisenhower issued a directive.

How did the nation survive for 170 years without firm, decisive and conclusive orders on what the flag should look like?  Isn’t it a great story that we went so long without law setting the requirements?

Alaska's state flag design came from 13-year old Benny Benson.

Alaska’s state flag design came from 13-year old Benny Benson. Benny Benson holding the Alaska flag at the Jesse Lee Home, Seward, Alaska. ASL-P01-1921, Alaska State Library-Historical Collections.

 

Alaska’s state flag came from the imagination of a 13-year-old Aleut, Benny Benson, winning a contest to design the state’s flag.  Alaska’s flag stands out in any display of U.S. state flags.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Fly your U.S. flags on these dates in January

January 3, 2015

Flag House in 1936, 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland) (cropped). Image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

Flag House in 1936, where Mary Pickersgill sewed the garrison-sized, 15-star flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore in 1814; one of the sites where the U.S. flag may be flown 24 hours. The house is at 844 East Pratt & Albemarle Streets (Baltimore, Independent City, Maryland). Cropped image courtesy of the federal HABS—Historic American Buildings Survey of Maryland.

January is loaded with flag flying dates, when we add in statehood days, dates those states are invited to fly their U.S. flags.

In January, the U.S. Flag Code urges citizens to fly flags on these dates:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1, a federal holiday
  • Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a federal holiday on the third Monday of January; that date is January 18, in 2014; King’s actual birthday is January 19, and you may fly your flag then, too
  • Inauguration Day, January 20, the year after election years (next one in 2017)
  • January 2, Georgia Statehood Day
  • January 3, Alaska Statehood Day
  • January 4, Utah Statehood Day
  • January 6, New Mexico Statehood Day
  • January 9, Connecticut Statehood Day
  • January 26, Michigan Statehood Day
  • January 29, Kansas Statehood Day

You may fly your flag any other day you wish, too; flags should not be flown after sundown unless they are specially lighted, or at one of the few places designated by Congress or Presidential Proclamation for 24-hour flag flying.  According to Wikipedia’s listing, those sites include:

  • Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland (Presidential Proclamation No. 2795, July 2, 1948).
  • Flag House Square, Albemarle and Pratt Streets, Baltimore, Maryland (Public Law 83-319, approved March 26, 1954).
  • Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), Arlington, Virginia (Presidential Proclamation No. 3418, June 12, 1961).
  • Lexington Battle Green, Lexington, Massachusetts (Public Law 89-335, approved November 8, 1965).
  • White House, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4000, September 4, 1970).
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. (Presidential Proclamation No. 4064, July 6, 1971, effective July 4, 1971).
  • Any port of entry to the United States which is continuously open (Presidential Proclamation No. 413 1, May 5, 1972).
  • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (Public Law 94-53, approved July 4, 1975).

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