How did Maine’s fishing, shipbuilding, and farming economies adjust when they were at odds with the larger U.S. economy in the late nineteenth century? 

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maine's harsh weather, particularly its long winters, made it difficult for the state to compete with the nation economically, especially in the farming industry. In the Aroostook County, potatoes were the only crop able to be produce plentifully enough to export. As a result, Maine's farms were primarily subsistence farms, meaning farms that grew crops mainly to feed the farm's family and livestock, "leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Subsistence Farming"). To keep themselves provided for throughout the year, Maine's farms grew many types of grains, "corn, fruits, and vegetables" in addition to potatoes; plus the farmers "raised poultry, cattle, and sheep" (Maine Memory Network, "180-1850: A New State & Prosperity"). During the winter months after the harvest, the farmers had to keep working to keep producing goods and income for the farm, so the farmers took to making "hand-crafted items like clocks, buggy whips, furniture, horse collars, barrels, and shingles." Women also had to work hard to keep farms' economies stable and made their own hand-crafted goods such as "brooms, baskets, ... palm-leaf hats" and hand-sewn clothing and shoes. Mainers referred to this approach of managing a farm as "mixed husbandry" ("180-1850: A New State & Prosperity").

However, outside of farming, Maine offered a variety of industries that were very important to both Maine's economy and the U.S.'s economy. Lumber and granite provided two of Maine's largest industries. Due to the state's diverse and substantial forests, Maine became the "nation's premier ship builder" ("180-1850: A New State & Prosperity"). Logging even became one of Maine's leading export industries because logs could easily be transported down Maine's rivers. Granite also proved easy to extract and export from Maine. Since Maine was "once the base of a gigantic mountain range," granite is found plentifully in Maine near the surface of the islands and peninsulas in the Penobscot Bay area, and the granite could easily be exported via seafaring ships. Hence, those two markets alone helped Maine establish its economy and helped it compete with the nation's larger economy. As the Maine Memory Network phrases it, Maine's resources contributed to much of the entire nation's development:

America's public buildings were made of Maine granite and its houses of Penobscot pine and Brewer brick, cemented over and plastered with lime from Rockland and Rockport and roofed with slate from Monson and Brownville or cedar shingles from the wetlands north of Bangor. ("180-1850: A New State & Prosperity")