The Maine Coon is a native New Englander, hailing from Maine, where he was a popular mouser, farm cat and, most likely, ship’s cat, at least as far back as the early 19th century. He is a natural breed and little is known of his origins. Some say the Vikings brought him to North America, centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, others that he is the descendant of longhaired cats belonging to Marie Antoinette, sent to America in advance of the doomed queen, who had hoped to escape there. Sea captains may have brought back longhaired cats that then mated with local shorthaired cats. One thing is for sure: the Maine Coon is not the result of a mating between a cat and a raccoon, even if his brown tabby coat and furry ringed tail suggest that biological impossibility. The resemblance is, however, how the cats got their name; in fact, Maine Coons that didn’t have the brown tabby coat were called Maine Shags.
The first published reference to a Maine Coon was in 1861, about a black and white cat named Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines. A female Maine Coon was named Best Cat in 1895 at a cat show held in Madison Square Garden. In Boston and New York, the home-grown felines were popular exhibits at cat shows, and when the Cat Fanciers Association was formed in 1908, the fifth cat registered was a Maine Coon named Molly Bond. But the invasion of glamourous Persian and exotic Siamese cats from England around the turn of the century spelled the end of the Maine Coon’s popularity for half a century. Things took a turn for the better in the 1960s, and the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was formed in 1968. Today the big, beautiful cats are among the world’s most popular. But what really counts, of course, is that they are the official state cat of Maine.