Lumber and paper products is the largest industry in Maine. Its history dates back all the way to the early 1600s when the English settlers came to Maine and noticed the tall white pine trees on Monhegan Island. They started cutting down trees on the island and soon on the mainland as a resource to build ships. They found the trees so valuable that they began marking them for ship building, claiming them for the king.
The need for these trees soon increased after the Revolutionary War for building ships and infrastructure, which were much needed in the new American economy. The trees that were harvested for different needs were as follows:
- Pine and Oak - good for shipbuilding, much needed for the military after the war
- Cedar - used for construction, and still used today
- Spruce and Fir - used for paper-making due to its softness
After harvesting the trees they now had to make it to their destination. Loggers used to drag the trees to the river and float them down to where they needed to go. They created piers to enter the river which you can still see today. In the process of transporting them downstream, a fair amount of the logs were lost because they would literally become waterlogged and sink to the bottom. This method of transport was used until about 1976 when they started using ships and trucks to transport.
Logging was an independent business until about 1820, when the industry started booming and camps were made. Each logging camp would consist of 12-14 men accompanied by their oxen. They stayed in true log cabins made of spruce, mud, and moss, and slept in the same bed with one blanket. They would rotate spots on the bed so people on the edge, in the coldest spot, wouldn’t freeze night after night in the winter.
This knowledge of the Maine forests soon spread and by 1832, Bangor was the largest shipping port of lumber in the world. In the following 55 years over 8.5 billion board feet of lumber would flow out of the port.
As the need for the wood changed, so did the lumberjacks. They started working for even bigger companies due to the demand from newsprint and magazines. Since then, the industry has come full circle and many of the loggers are independent again. Now they focus on natural harvesting. This replicates what would be happening in the forests naturally, creating a better ecosystem on their land, which leads to healthier trees and healthier wildlife, while still getting the valuable resource of wood. Maine has been perfecting this practice for hundreds of years to try and build a more sustainable future.
David Rancourt, the first generation of Rancourts to enter the shoe industry actually started in the logging industry, following in his father's footsteps as a lumberjack. Fortunately, he decided that lifestyle wasn't for him and became a shoemaker, the rest is history.
- Matthew Gondek
Logging Camp Photo - The Maine Boomhouses
Forest Photo - Maine Forest Service