The Maine Coon is one of the oldest natural cat breeds in North America, and is specifically native to the state of Maine. This explains the cat’s thick coat of fur and bushy tail; keeping warm in the harsh Maine winters was essential to survival.
History of the Maine Coon before 1800, though, is left to much speculation. Some say the breed was introduced to North America when Marie Antoinette shipped over six of her favorite Turkish Angora cats along with her attempt to escape execution by her husband, the king, in 1793. Marie was not so lucky, but her cats successfully arrived on the shores of Maine, and are said to have further bred with the short-haired breeds there to create what is now the Maine Coon.
Aside from Marie’s ship theory, though, it’s possible that at any point other breeds could have come over on any ship. In fact many ships had “ship cats”, whose responsibility was to get rid of mice and rats that would spread disease and destroy precious ship cargo. These cats were oftentimes long-hairs, and were prized by their captains. Maine was a big hub for ship building and captains would often have a house and live with their families there, including their prized long-hairs.
Another ship theory is that vikings brought over Norwegian Forest Cats (who look very similar to Maine Coons) when they sailed the northern seas. Again, these cats would have served as mousers on the ships.
Bobcat and Raccoon Cross-breeding
An even crazier theory of the Maine Coon’s origins claims that a domesticated cat in Maine cross-bred with a bobcat, which is why Maine Coons are so large and share the lynx-tipped ears. Some even say that it was, in fact, a raccoon that the domesticated cat bred with, which is impossible since cats and raccoons cannot mate. Similarly, even though bobcats and domesticated cats are from the same Felidae family, they are not of the same species and therefore also cannot mate.
Maine Coons in Shows
The earliest records we have of the Maine Coon appear in Frances Simpson’s “The Book of the Cat” in 1861. Around that same time farmers in Maine were holding an annual competition called “Maine State Champion Coon Cat” to award the prize to the best Maine Coon.
Although the first North American cat show (hosted in Madison Square Garden in 1895) awarded “Best in Show” to a Maine Coon named Corey, the breed’s popularity severely declined in subsequent decades. Other long-hairs such as the Persian became more poplar and won more awards in shows. The decline was so drastic that by 1950, Maine Coons were almost extinct.
Maine’s Beloved Cat
But the residents of Maine were determined not to let their beloved Maine Coon lose breed recognition, and after forming several organizations from 1950-1975, Maine Coon enthusiasts won official breed recognition from the CFA and in 1976 the Maine Coon was allowed to compete in shows for championship status.
Since then, the Maine Coon has risen in popularity once again, and was crowned Maine’s official state cat in 1985, and is today the third most popular cat breed according to the CFA.