July 31, 2019 | President’s blog

Yesterday, Governor Janet Mills and community leaders in Presque Isle, Bangor, Portland and Augusta joyously kicked off Maine’s bicentennial. At the various ceremonies, the Governor dedicated commemorative pine groves, raised the bicentennial flag, and announced a series of events to celebrate the milestone. She also announced the availability of $375,000 in grants for communities or organizations interested in launching bicentennial-themed events.  The timing of the kickoff corresponded with the affirmative vote 200 years ago to separate Maine from Massachusetts.  That vote set statehood in motion and, ultimately, helped Maine achieve official state status in March 1820.

As a history enthusiast, I am very excited about our state’s bicentennial and the many wonderful events that will commemorate it in 2020.  Those events include Statehood Weekend in March, featuring bean suppers, music and poetry; a Bicentennial Parade in May celebrating Maine’s history; and a Summer Coast Festival in July with tall ships visiting various coastal towns.  And, not to wish the year away but I am also looking forward to the Grand Finale Weekend in October 2020.  The Grand Finale Weekend will celebrate Maine’s diverse culture and will also focus on Maine’s long history of ingenuity and our state’s opportunity to encourage and promote innovation to help blaze a path to a more prosperous future.  MTI is thrilled to be collaborating with the Bicentennial Commission to bring about some meaningful tech-based programming that weekend.

The bicentennial is, of course, a time to celebrate the legacy of famous Maine inventors like Margaret Knight of York, who was a prolific inventor in the late 19th century, securing 27 patents in her lifetime, and who was compared to Thomas Edison during her era. There’s also Chester Greenwood of Farmington, who, in the 1870s, invented and patented earmuffs.  He provided good jobs for the people of Farmington for nearly 60 years and his name is still revered in his hometown as is evidenced by the commemoration of Chester Greenwood Day in Farmington each December.

Maine, of course, also played a prominent role in canning and textiles in the 19th century. The Winslow brothers of Portland, according to the Maine Memory Network, were among the first canners in the United States and canned corn.  The process they developed involved placing corn in a can, heating the can to kill bacteria and then sealing it. George Jewett learned the canning trade from the Winslow’s and built a corn canning empire in Somerset County, eventually expanding into string bean and apple canning and employing thousands. Downeast Maine also enjoyed a reputation for blueberry, sardine and lobster canning.  The innovations in canning and textiles made Maine a powerhouse for industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Clearly, Maine’s legacy of tinkering and problem solving is long and storied. While laboring in agricultural fields and forests, and upon our state’s vast coastal waters, Mainers have always demonstrated that they are inventive and resourceful problem solvers.  And, without question, this experience has helped instill the current generation of Maine workers and entrepreneurs with a well-deserved reputation for originality and an unrivaled work ethic.

This creative legacy persists today as there are many examples of contemporary entrepreneurs and Maine companies (WEX, Covetrus, IDEXX, Immucell, Tilson, and JAX, to name a few) that are continuously innovating, developing new products and services, and creating quality jobs right here in our state.

As you know, the Maine Technology Institute helps foster and facilitate that creativity by funding innovations developed by Maine inventors in garages all the way up to large public companies, world renowned research organizations and academic institutions.

MTI looks forward to working with Maine’s Bicentennial Commission to help highlight Maine’s legendary reputation for ingenuity while also positioning our state to build upon this legacy over the next 100 years and beyond.  Be on the lookout for more news and developments about bicentennial events being organized to celebrate Maine’s doers and dreamers.  MTI will do our best to keep you apprised of events via our website.  You can also find additional information about Maine’s bicentennial on the Bicentennial Commission’s site.

Again, I am excited to commemorate Maine’s statehood in 2020 and invite you to contact me with any ideas you might have for shining a spotlight on Maine’s innovators over the next year and/or for developing unique and interesting MTI-related content or events to help observe the milestone achievement.