Long ago, Native Americans used lobsters as bait and as fertilizer for their crops. Lobsters were so plentiful along the shores of Maine during colonial times that they were considered “poverty food” and were served to prisoners and indentured servants. (Servants eventually rebelled and listed in their contracts that they were not to be forced to eat lobster more than 3 times a week.)
Trap fishing started in Maine around 1850. Before that, they were mostly harvested by hand along the shore. As demand grew for lobster in the New York and Boston markets, smackmen were used to transport lobsters from Maine to these ports. (A smack is a small sailing vessel with a tank inside that has holes cut to allow seawater to circulate and the men that operated these vessels were known as “smackmen.”)
After World War II, a company by the name of LobLure began experimenting with unusual concoctions to find the perfect bait to draw lobsters to traps. Combinations included a bag that blinked like a traffic light, kerosene-soaked bricks, and white coffee mugs.
The first lobster pound was founded in Vinalhaven in 1875. It was located in a deep tidal creek. The lobster pound made it easier to store lobster for longer periods of time. There the lobsters were kept in tanks with water passing freely through them.
Canning began in 1836 to meet a larger demand and solved some of the problems with shipping lobster. By the second half of the 19th century, the value of canned lobster had surpassed the value of live lobster. According to an 1880 history of Cumberland County, the Burnham & Morrill Co. (one of the earliest canneries in existence in Maine) advertised that they were sending canned lobster to all parts of the habitable globe. (The company is now known as B&M and produces baked beans.)
Today, Maine is the largest lobster-producing state in the United States. With current technology and transportation, it’s now possible to eat fresh Maine lobster all over the country.