Lobster History Lesson
Lobster is usually served for special occasions and is regarded primarily as an indulgence for the wealthy. But, in colonial times, lobsters were so plentiful that they were used for fertilizing fields and for fishing bait. Lobsters were considered ‘food for the poor’ and were often served to prisoners and to servants who had exchanged their ‘sponsorship’ to America for several years of service.
Until the early 1800s, harvesting lobster was done by gathering them along the shore. Lobster trapping began in Maine around the mid 1800’s. Today Maine is the largest lobster-producing state in the United States.
Due to the increased demand for lobsters from big cities like New York and Boston, Lobstermen began arriving in Maine around 1820. These lobstermen used a boat known as a well smack. Well smacks had a tank inside that had holes drilled into it to allow sea water to circulate. They were used to transport live lobsters over long distances, opening the way for a lobster boom.
In 1875 the first lobster pounds appeared in Vinalhaven, Maine an island town located in Knox County. The lobsters were kept in tanks with water passing through them. The first lobster pound was in a deep tidal creek, but today they are more common on docks that float in the harbor.
By the 1930s, these lobtsermen were being replaced by land-based buyers who were the middlemen between the lobster harvesters and the public. The buyer purchased lobsters from a harvester then either sold the lobsters at the docks or to a regional dealer who sent the lobsters out of state.
In response to demand for lobster, canning began in the 1830’s. One of the earliest canneries was The Burnham & Morrill Company. Now primarily known for B&M baked beans, they were canning lobsters and sending them to all parts of the world. Canning the lobsters allowed folks that didn’t live near the seashore to enjoy the savory coastal treat.
Today, lobster is as popular as ever , filling restaurant menus with luxurious menu choices. There are as many ways to cook lobster as there are cooks, so put on your bibs and crack open a claw for a true New England treat.