Originally a district of Massachusetts, Maine became the 23rd state on March 15, 1820, as part of the Missouri Compromise, which stipulated that Maine would be a slave-free state and that Missouri would be a slave state.
The state has a population of a little more than 1.3 million, which has remained steady during the last few decades. Its principal industries are tourism, paper products, fishing, potatoes and blueberries. Maine lobster is famous around the world, with the city of Rockland staking claim to being the Lobster Capital of the World. The Penobscot Bay’s location is a prime breeding ground for the crustaceans and produces an inordinate number of lobsters each year.
In 2012, Maine lobstermen hauled in more than 123 million pounds of lobster, compared to 2000’s harvest of more than 57 million pounds. This accounts for more than 90 percent of all lobsters harvested in the United States.
In the state’s early years, lumber was the primary industry. Each spring massive log drives made their way down the state’s two longest rivers, the Kennebec and Penobscot. The lumber was used to build some of the finest ships in the world and to build homes in the Northeast.
The lumber industry is nowhere near what it used to be, but the Maine woods still produces a significant amount of lumber used in paper products ranging from standard paper to toilet paper. About 90 percent of the state’s land is forest. The state has major mills in Old Town, Millinocket, Lincoln, Skowhegan, Madison, Westbrook, Auburn, and Baileyville. Only Wisconsin produces more paper than the Pine Tree State.
Fishing is king up and down the coast, from Kittery to Eastport. For many towns, the fishing industry means everything to the stability of the community socially and economically. Fishing tends to be a family affair, passed on from generation to generation.
Conditions on land along the coast, in places such as Blue Hill and Cherryfield, are just right for the state’s blueberry industry. Every late summer thousands of workers descend upon the open, windswept blueberry fields in Hancock and Washington counties to rake the year’s crop. If you have had anything with blueberries in it in the United States, chances are the blueberries came from Maine. The state’s 60,000 acres of blueberry fields produced 83 million pounds in 2011, up from 74.5 million pounds in 2000. That’s 98 percent of the low-brush blueberries produced in the United States.
Up north, in Aroostook County, potato farming is a tradition and a necessity. The County, as Mainers call it, is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Each September, schools in the County suspend classes so students can help harvest the fields for a couple of weeks.
In the last half-century, though, tourism has become the state’s primary industry. Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island, is one of the most visited national parks. Other tourist hotbeds are the small resort towns south of Portland; the mid-coast area that includes Rockland, Rockport, Camden and Belfast; the Moosehead Lake region; and the Katahdin region. The primary tourist season begins on Memorial Day and lasts through Labor Day. A second season begins after Labor Day and runs until about mid-October as thousands of leaf-peepers flock to the state and the rest of New England to take in some of the most spectacular fall foliage to be found anywhere.
Each spring, summer, and fall, more than 100 cruise ships visit Bar Harbor, including the luxurious Queen Mary 2, of the Cunard Line.
Maine’s sparsely populated area, remoteness from the rest of the United States, and natural beauty have spawned or attracted some of America’s most influential artists. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.B. White and Stephen King have called (or still call) Maine home. In addition, painter Andrew Wyeth called the town of Cushing his summer home his entire life, with the Cushing area serving as the inspiration for some of his most famous works, including Cristina’s World and the Man From Maine.
Examples of the can-do attitude Mainers possess include 1984 Olympic gold medal marathon runner Joan Benoit Samuelson, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, U.S. Sen. Majority Leader George Mitchell, and U.S. Sen. and Secretary of Defense William Cohen.