11 Facts About The Unique State of Maine

The first place in the United States to see the sun each day, Maine has an extraordinary history and aura like no other place on earth.

Mar 16, 2024By Kassandre Dwyer, M.Ed History
maine state facts

 

Despite its designation as the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi, Maine is full of anything but emptiness. A richly unique place to live or visit, the 23rd state has an interesting history filled to the brim with exciting bits of trivia and played a surprisingly large role in the history of the nation’s development. Originally part of Massachusetts, the state gained autonomy and was admitted to the US in 1820. Here are just a few facts that intrigue and delight regarding this one-of-a-kind place.

 

1. It’s Not All Lobsters & Blueberries

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A wild blueberry field in autumn. Sarah Rice photo. Source: NBC News

 

While the state of Maine is famous for its rocky coastlines boasting an impressive lobster catch, with coastal blueberry fields abound, these claims to fame make up just a small portion of the state. Yes, the state yields about 40 million pounds of lobster annually and produces 99% of the nation’s wild blueberries, but it also is home to acres of undeveloped forest, rural farmland, and quaint villages, with some towns located hours away from the shores.

 

2. Maine is Home to the Inventor of the Machine Gun

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Maxim in an undated photo by Wendell Photography. Source: Free Range American

 

Born in 1840 in Sangerville, Maine, Hiram Maxim would go on to obtain his first patent at age 26, but it was far from his last. Maxim would become a legendary inventor, obtaining over 270 patents in his lifetime. He invented tools and machines ranging from curling irons to pressure regulators, but perhaps his most impactful invention was the machine gun.

 

maine fun facts gatling gun
The Gatling Gun was the precursor to the Maxim machine gun. Source: Institute of Military Technology

 

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Using the Gatling gun, a hand-driven, crank-operated weapon, as his base, Maxim utilized the recoil power of each bullet to fire the next cartridge. To make his new gun more effective, the inventor also created a smokeless gunpowder called cordite. The Maxim gun company was later purchased by Vickers Ltd (Maxim remained on the board) and became the standard issue supplier for the British Army during World War I.

 

One of the deadliest and, therefore, most effective technological innovations to come out of the war, the machine gun played an essential role in the designation of trench warfare as a major strategy throughout the war.

 

3. It’s the First Place to See the Sun

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A sunrise in Acadia National Park. Photo by Robert F. Bukaty, AP. Source: USA Today

 

Each day, Maine is the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. However, where exactly in Maine the rays hit first is sometimes a topic of dispute. Due to elevation and the position of the Earth relative to the sun, some experts argue that the location differs at certain times of the year. For example, New England.com claims that between January 11 and March 6 and between October 7 and November 29, the sun is blocked by the hills of Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada, during the first five minutes of the day, Cadillac Mountain on Maine’s Mount Desert Island sees the sun before the normal point of designation.

 

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The lighthouse at West Quoddy Head. Source: West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Visitor Center

 

Normally, Quoddy Head, also known as West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point of the mainland in the United States, takes the prize as the first place to receive sunlight. Others argue that Eastport, Maine, considered the easternmost city in the continental US, should take the honor, though it is technically north and west of West Quoddy Head.

 

4. Travel the World…Without ever Leaving Home

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Excerpt from the Maine Travelogue by Walter L. Colburn. Source: Big Think

 

Charmingly, Maine is home to a number of towns and villages named after international counterparts. It has earned the nickname the “Switzerland of America” as a result. Maine Travelogue by Walter L. Colburn is an amiable poem that discusses some of the “destinations” within the state. They include some European capitals (Athens, Madrid, Paris), UK cities (Leeds, Bristol), and even other countries (Norway, China).

 

5. There are Thousands of Islands & Thousands of Miles of Coastline

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Maine’s coast offers incredible views. Source: Visit Maine

 

Maine has more than 4,600 offshore islands included within its statehood, though many of these are tiny; only 1,200 of them are larger than an acre. Of these thousands of islands, only fifteen of them have a year-round population. The others are uninhabited by humans or are only home to summer visitors.

 

The most populated of the islands is Vinalhaven, about twelve miles off the coast. It’s home to almost 1,300 people, with the population swelling each summer with visitors. Vinalhaven is also the largest island in size, at 23 square miles.

 

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Main Street in Vinalhaven. Photo by Peter Frank Edwards. Source: Maine Magazine

 

Maine’s coast is 3,478 miles in length when one considers all of the islands and inlets. Only Florida, Louisiana, and Alaska have more. When inlets and islands are not considered, just the general coastline, Maine ranks ninth in the country, with 228 miles.

 

6. It’s the Only State that Shares its Border with Only One Other State

maine fun facts border map
This map clearly shows Maine’s neighbors. Source: Google Earth

 

While Hawaii and Alaska are separate from the contingent United States and share their border with no other states, all of the other United States are adjacent to multiple others. The exception is Maine, which shares a border with only one other state, New Hampshire. In order to reach any of the other United States by land, one must first travel through either New Hampshire or Canada. In addition to New Hampshire, Maine is bordered by two Canadian provinces, New Brunswick and Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean.

 

7. The First Naval Battle of the Revolutionary War was Fought off the Coast of Maine

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The events of Lexington and Concord were a trigger for the Battle of Machias. National Guard Bureau. Source: American Battlefield Trust

 

When the people of Maine caught wind of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, they were none too pleased. Just two months later, over two days in June 1775, the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War would occur off the coast of Machias, Maine.

 

Later known as the Battle of Machias, it resulted from the indignation of Machias locals when their regular supply ships returned from Boston accompanied by an armed British sloop, the Margaretta. The owner of the supply ships was a British loyalist and demanded pledges of loyalty from locals before he began distributing sundries. This angered many, leading to an attack on both the loyalist and the Margaretta and its crew. Four died in the engagement, including the captain of the Margaretta.

 

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Depiction of the attack on the Margaretta. US Naval Institute Photo Archive. Source: US Naval Institute

 

As a result of the battle, the town of Machias petitioned the Massachusetts Congress for the right to arm themselves officially and was granted permission to outfit one of the former supply ships, the Unity, with guns. It was renamed the Machias Liberty and used to protect Maine’s coast and privateer British shipping throughout the war.

 

8. No One’s Sure Where its Name Came from

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This road sign greets visitors entering the state via the Maine Turnpike in Kittery. Foster’s Daily Democrat photo. Source: Foster’s Daily Democrat

 

The future state’s name first appears in writing in 1622, when it was originally part of what would become Massachusetts. However, no one can really agree on where the name came from. Some say it comes from France, where a province shares the name. Others state that it is related to the nautical terms used to differentiate the body of land from islands off the coast, “the mainland” or “the main.”

 

9. Its Forests are Vast

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A view of a Maine forest. Source: University of Maine

 

Maine’s nickname is “the Pine Tree State,” and with good reason; not only does it have an abundance of Eastern White Pine (in 1895, the Eastern White Pine cone and tassel was named the state flower), but dozens of other species of trees. One of Maine’s first industries was lumbering, and nearly every tree species in the state has been used for commercial purposes over the years. Still, more than 80% of Maine’s landmass remains forested or as unclaimed territory, more than any other state in the nation.

 

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A bull (male) moose. J. Mills Photo. Source: National Park Service

 

These areas are home to more than 50,000 wildlife species, including mammals like the moose, the state animal. In addition, they allow for recreation, including hiking, camping, snowmobiling, hunting, and fishing, supporting the state’s economy. Further keeping the state financially afloat, Maine’s forests continue to provide the state with jobs, and wood products abound. Forest-related industries directly employ almost 25,000 Maine workers.

 

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Mount Katahdin, with Chimney Pond in the foreground. Photo by Jason Gablaski. Source: National Park Service

 

Many of these forested acres are maintained as public lands, of which Maine has approximately 600,000 acres. The designation of these lots dates back to the creation of the state in 1820, and today, they are maintained by the Public Reserved Land System, held in reserve for public enjoyment and utilization. Maine also has 48 historic sites and state parks protecting an additional 100,00 acres. This includes the majestic Baxter State Park, home to the tallest mountain in Maine, Mount Katahdin. The park, deeded by former governor Percival Baxter, is visited by roughly 60,000 people in the summer months.

 

10. Kittery was its First City

maine fun facts kittery sign
According to the Food Lens, Kittery is one of the best “food towns” in New England. Source: The Food Lens

 

The town of Kittery, Maine, nestled in the southernmost part of the state, was the first official colonial settlement in the future state. Though it wasn’t the first settled colony (the English arrived in Popham in 1607), it was the first to be incorporated, meaning it had an authoritative governing body and set of laws. Settled in 1623 by the English and officially incorporated in 1647, the town is currently home to about 10,000, elevating its status to city. It is the southernmost town in the state, on the other side of the Piscataqua River from New Hampshire.

 

11. Famous Folks Abound

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Stephen King in front of his appropriately spooky Bangor home in 1982. Photo by Carroll Hall. Source: Unusual Places

 

Just because Maine is rural and sparsely populated doesn’t mean it hasn’t seen its share of celebrity. Numerous bigshots have originated from the 23rd state, and many others have built vacation homes there. Horror author Stephen King is one of Maine’s most famous natives, born in Portland, Maine. The author of Carrie and Pet Semetery graduated from the University of Maine and taught at a high school in Hampden, Maine as he began his writing career. King still owns a famous home, a popular visitor attraction, in Bangor, Maine.

 

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Patrick Dempsey, pictured here with medical professionals from a Maine hospital, is often spotted in his home state. Patrick Dempsey Instagram photo. Source: People Magazine

 

Patrick Dempsey, the handsome actor best known for playing “McDreamy” on the TV hit Grey’s Anatomy, was born in Lewiston, Maine, the youngest of three children. After making it big, he founded the Dempsey Center, a medical facility for cancer care, in his home state.

 

Actress Anna Kendrick of Pitch Perfect fame was born just down the highway from Dempsey in Portland in 1985.

 

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George Mitchell in an AP photo. Source: Politico

 

George Mitchell, a prominent senator who served the United States from 1980-1995 was from Maine. He was a major player in negotiating to end the conflict in Northern Ireland and serving as the Senate Majority leader. Even after he retired from politics, he stayed busy as a diplomatic figure, serving as an envoy to the Middle East. There is a school named for him in his hometown of Waterville.

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By Kassandre DwyerM.Ed HistoryKassie is a farmer with a passion for history who has a day job teaching middle school social studies in her hometown. In addition to earning NBCT certification and M.Ed. in History, she holds an M.Ed in Curriculum & Instruction and a B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture/Animal Science. She is particularly interested in telling the stories of often overlooked historical perspectives or hidden truths, and is especially intrigued by the history of America’s Indigenous peoples, war, and the “wild west.”