Throughout the 19th century Maine’s economy continued to rely on its resource-based industries, especially fish, granite, ice, and the wood industries. While these resources were abundant in the state, the industries were characterized by harsh and seasonal work for Maine’s people, limited capital investment, and dependence on erratic markets. By the late 19th century these industries tended toward monopoly capitalism controlled largely by out-of-state investors. Antagonism between Maine workers and nonresident owners did little to improve working conditions or low salaries.
Maine’s coastal geography and its vast woods supported another of Maine’s important 19th-century industries, shipbuilding, which was carried on in dozens of coastal towns. Workers in Maine built clipper ships, schooners, and large commercial ships known as “Down-Easters”; these vessels carried the state’s products such as fish, lumber, lime, and ice. Though competition from iron and steel ships in the late 19th century resulted in the decline of the wooden shipbuilding industry, the Maine shipbuilding tradition persisted at Bath Iron Works in southern Maine, where workers turned out 236 Liberty ships during World War II (1939-1945) and produced nuclear-powered submarines in the late 20th century. While 19th-century Maine depended heavily upon resource-based industry and shipbuilding, industrial manufacturing had become more important by the middle of the century.
One of Maine’s most important industries, cotton and woolen textiles, emerged in the 1840s in towns along the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers. The mill towns boomed during the Civil War, filling government contracts for uniforms and tents. Lured by the prospect of work in the mills, many French Canadians migrated to Maine’s mill towns during the 1860s and 1870s, only to find harsh working and living conditions.
Despite the efforts of the Knights of Labor, a labor union that flourished in Maine during the 1880s, industrial workers in Maine endured low wages and poor working conditions. In the 20th century, Maine lost its textile industry to southern competition, but the French American population remained a dynamic minority in Maine life and culture. In 1980 nearly one-fourth of the state’s population claimed French Canadian ancestry.
In agriculture, Maine faced severe competition from Western states, where farmers enjoyed richer soil and flat lands. Maine farmers adapted by turning to dairy farming, market gardening, and specialty crops such as apples, blueberries, and sweet corn. With the coming of the railroad to northern Maine in the late 19th century, farmers there gained access to markets and received national recognition for their potato production. In the 20th century, Western farmers have challenged Maine’s leadership in potato growing, but the crop remains an important part of Maine’s economy. © Written by Emmanuel BUCHOT and Encarta "Maine" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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