Which patterns do you see at work in Maine’s harvesting of natural resources? Ice, granite, timber, lime production were enormously important in the pre-Civil War years. What made them important? How did they change?
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The pattern I see in Maine’s harvesting of natural resources is a pattern in which natural resources lost their economic value as technology brought about economic changes. Natural resources like ice and lime, which were once extremely important, became much less important, forcing Maine to move on to other sources of economic growth.
Before the Civil War, the commodities that you mention were very important. Ice was important because artificial refrigeration did not yet exist. People who wanted to preserve food or have cold drinks needed to use natural ice. Therefore, ice needed to be harvested and stored in places that were as cool as possible to resist melting. Since Maine has such cold winters, ice was plentiful and could be sold to population centers along the East Coast.
Before the Civil War, lime, granite, and timber were very important building materials. Granite was used for constructing buildings. Lime was used to make mortar to hold bricks together and to make plaster for walls. Timber was, of course, used for building homes, railroads, and ships.
As time went by, however, technological advances reduced the demand for most of these products. When refrigerators were invented, the need for natural ice essentially disappeared. Artificial refrigeration was much more convenient than using actual ice to keep food cold. Changes in building techniques made granite and lime much less useful. Builders moved away from bricks and stone and started using reinforced cement to make buildings. They also started to use drywall instead of plaster for making walls. With these changes, patterns of harvesting natural resources changed. Many natural resources that had once been very valuable ceased to be as important to Maine’s economy.
The change in Maine’s timber industry follows a different pattern. Here, demand did not really fall away as wood continues to be very important today. However, logging of Maine’s forests, along with parasites like the spruce bud-worm, reduced the supply of timber in Maine, making that industry less important to the state’s economy.
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