Story by Crystal Sands
Maine became a state in 1820, but didn’t have a state flag until 1901. That original flag flew for just eight years before being replaced by the state flag that continues to be flown today.
But the story of the Maine flag is more complex than we might think. Its history involves three flags and a lot of varying opinions about what a state flag should be.
The original Maine flag was officially approved by state legislators in March of 1901. There are no records of what the official original flag looked like, but the legislation that was passed described what the flag should look like. The legislative document states that the flag should feature a “buff” background with “a pine tree proper in the center” and “the polar star . . . in blue in the upper corner.”
Though there are photographs in private collections, the description of the flag leaves some room for interpretation, which has led to a variety of modern-day versions of the original flag.
Although this flag wasn’t the official flag for the state of Maine for long, the design of the flag remains a beloved symbol of the state.
Original Maine, owned by Chris Korzen with his wife, Bethany Field, began as the Maine Flag Company in 2013. The company was the first to reproduce a version of the original flag for sale to the public. Today, Original Maine remains the only company that makes the flags here in Maine.
Korzen said he thinks the old Maine flag is so popular today because we “are in need of a good symbol we can take beyond our borders.” And although the current state flag is important, according to Korzen, more than a dozen other states have flags almost identical to Maine’s official state flag.
The uniqueness of the original flag may be driving its continued popularity. Flags are important symbols for people, Korzen said. They represent “who we were and who we are.”
The old Maine flag was removed as the official state flag of Maine on Feb. 23, 1909. Civil War veterans in the state legislature wanted a flag similar to battle flags from the war, and wanted the state flag to be blue to represent the Union blue.
The 1909 flag — Maine’s present state flag — is blue with a shield in the center featuring a moose and a pine tree. On each side of the shield, a farmer and a seaman stand. In the center at the top, there is a small star. Across the star reads the word “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead.”
Many Mainers may not be aware of it, but this is not Maine’s only state flag. The state is one of two to have a second flag (Massachusetts is the other state). The merchant and marine flag, designed to be easily recognizable from far away, is meant to be flown over the water. It features a green pine tree in the center of a white background with an anchor in front. The word “Dirigo” is across the top of this flag as well, with the word “Maine” underneath the pine tree.
Still, the old Maine flag remains a favorite of the people of Maine. While Original Maine started out as a small business producing Maine flags, the company now sells t-shirts, tea towels, hats, stickers and more featuring the old Maine flag.
And, as the first company to begin making and selling old Maine flags, Original Maine has done much to solidify its design in the people of Maine’s hearts and minds, Korzen said.
“Because some of the details of the original Maine flag were not spelled out in the statute [we aimed for a design that was] both historically accurate and producible,” Korzen said.
The husband-and-wife team used the pine tree from the maritime flag as the basis for their design.
This version of the old Maine flag is now widely used by a variety of companies. Senator Susan Collins’s old Maine flag face mask she has been seen wearing publicly follows this design.
The surge in popularity has led to efforts to make the old Maine flag the official state flag once again. In 2019, a bill was introduced in the Maine state Legislature to do just that. Although there was a lot of support for the change initially, the bill died in committee after outcry about the change.
There’s another push to make a change this year as well. In 2021, Legislative Document 115 was introduced in the state legislature to try to restore the original design. The bill summary states that it “replaces the current State of Maine flag with the flag that was in use before 1909.”
Although it remains to be seen what will happen with the current bill, one thing is clear: there is something about the old Maine flag that speaks to people.