Antiquity has left its mark on Maine. Ice Age glaciers changed what had been the relatively smooth line of the Atlantic coast into a jagged one, with numerous inlets, harbors, bays and peninsulas. This rugged coastline - 3,500 miles long - as well as the more than 2,000 islands and a similar number of lakes created by the last glacier are a picturesque draw for tourists, who are mainstays of the modern Maine economy.
As with all states, Maine's early industries were closely linked to its geography. Fishing was its first industry. And with more than 90% of its land forested – the highest percentage of any state – it’s no surprise that lumbering also became a major component of the economy. (The first sawmill in America began operating in 1623 on the Piscataqua River.) Abundant timber and, specifically, great stands of tall white pines for masts, grew not far from the harbors, fostering a robust shipbuilding industry that peaked in the 19th century.
The retreating glacier also contributed to the creation of over 5,000 rivers and streams. The more powerful ones – such as the St. John, Penobscot, Kennebec, Androscoggin and Saco - were especially well-suited to providing hydroelectric power for the manufacturing of textiles, leather and paper. Yet today, there is an ongoing reversal of many of these industrial-age changes. In 2013, the Penobscot River – the second largest river system in New England – became free-flowing again after activists successfully lobbied to have the Veazie Dam removed, thus allowing migratory fish to once again swim upriver and spawn for the first time in 200 years.
The Pine Tree State’s short growing season, heavy forestation and rocky soil don’t exactly make it the most hospitable to agriculture. As a result, the state’s more than 8,000 farms have focused on producing those things better suited to their lands, such as poultry, eggs and dairy products. And when the Aroostook Railroad was completed in 1894, the cultivation of potatoes in far-northern Aroostook County was boosted to greater success. Yet it’s the wild blueberry that the state remains known for. Maine is the world’s top producer of low-bush (aka wild) blueberries, one of four fruit crops native to North America. In 2014, the state produced more than 100 million pounds of wild blueberries, the second highest crop ever recorded in Maine.
The fishing industry in Maine has struggled in recent decades, with cold-water species like cod and haddock dwindling due to warming ocean temperatures. Yet one of the bright spots is lobster fishing, which is experiencing an unexpected boom. The lobster industry raked in a record $456 million in 2014, a 23% increase over 2013. Also growing is the practice of aquaculture or “water farming” of various species, including Atlantic salmon, scallops, oysters and blue mussels, as well as freshwater fish such as rainbow and brown trout. All told, Maine’s commercially harvested marine products had an all-time high value in 2014, showing that this industry remains vital despite reduced catches and changing conditions.
Burial grounds for Maine's earliest inhabitants - descendants of the hunters of the Ice Age - are believed to date back to 3000 B.C., long before the appearance of the Micmacs and Abnakis, two early Native American tribes. The Abnakis, especially, became involved in the French fur trade and, later, the French and Indian War. And although Maine was once inhabited by numerous tribes, today only the Passamaquoddies and the Penobscots remain.
The first European settlement in Maine was at Popham in 1607, but the settlers perished in the cruel winters and history credits Jamestown, Virginia, with being the first permanent settlement in America. By the beginning of the 18th century, only a few Maine settlements endured, and Massachusetts had bought up and administered much of the land. At the end of the American Revolution, Maine residents began campaigning for statehood, and in 1819, Massachusetts finally agreed. However, Maine's admission to the Union became an issue tied to the very institution most Mainers abhorred - slavery. The infamous “Missouri Compromise” required that Missouri be admitted as a slave state if Maine were admitted as a free state. Finally, in 1820, Maine became the 23rd state.
The 12th smallest state in terms of land area, Maine today has a population of over 1.3 million people, placing it among the ten least populated states. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, given that it’s also the third slowest growing state in the nation. Between 2014 and 2015, it was one of only seven states to record a population decline. 95% of residents are white, 1% are Hispanic, 1% are black, 1% are Asian and 1% are multiracial, while the remaining Native Americans comprise just 0.5%. Notably, over 20% of the population reports either French or French Canadian heritage, and more than 3% of residents speak French at home, the highest percentage of any U.S. state. Other ethnicities represented include English, Irish, German, Scottish and Italian.
As of early 2016, the statewide median household income was $48,453 – roughly $5,000 less than the national median – with approximately 13% of the population living below the poverty line. For the same time period, the median home value in Maine was $177,578 – again, just below the U.S. median. However, real estate is pricier in Portland, the state’s largest city with a metro area population over 520,000. Here the median home value was $246,970 within the city limits. In Kennebunkport, the most expensive city in Maine and home to the George H.W. Bush family compound, the median home value was $449,537.