Maine Coon History: Origin Story of This Magnificent Breed 

carrie profenno

by: Carrie Profenno: Author, Mainer, Maine Coon Mama, editor of The Maine Coon Magazine

by: Carrie Profenno - Author, Mainer, Maine Coon Mama, editor of The Maine Coon Magazine

The Maine Coon history leaves us guessing, unlike most cat breeds who have clear origins. It's a fun topic to contemplate!

Looking upon a big Maine Coon Cat, with his bushy tail and shaggy coat, you can easily see that this is no ordinary domestic cat!


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We have legends, myths, and educated guesses to help us answer the question, "Where did those Maine Coon characteristics come from?"

maine coon cat outdoors by a stream

No one really knows the origin of the Maine Coon. That's part of the mystery.

When they first showed up in the earliest cat shows, all that was known was that they were from Maine. It's easy to see why they are the official State Cat of Maine!

As a result, they were known in those days as a "Maine Cat." But more on that later. First lets talk about their mysterious history.

North America doesn't have a native house cat, which just developed in the wild. Although there are bobcats, lynx and so forth in the wild, a domestic cat has to have come from somewhere.

Where did they come from? Lets start with the impossible, and work our way to the probable Maine Coon history.

Myths and Tall Tales

Believe it or not, some people actually thought they could possibly be a cross between a house cat and a raccoon. This is a physical impossibility. They are two entirely different species! Modern science tells us this is just can't happen. Enough said!

Another theory is that a house cat mated with a wild lynx or bobcat. This is not impossible, though most would agree it is improbable. But, when you take in their large size, it could make you wonder!


lynx family in a tree

The Legend of Marie Antoinette

The next story about Maine Coon history is more enticing. I thought it was quite fascinating when I first heard about it. Before Marie Antoinette met her untimely end, she was making plans to escape to America.

There was a sea captain who was helping to fill his ship with her belongings. This much is true and documented. It was also noted that she was a fan of small furry animals.

So, with a little leap of faith, we might guess that Marie Antoinette had pet Persian and Angora cats.

They would have been on board with the captain who returned (without her, of course!) to the Northeastern United States. These cats would have bred with the common shorthair variety, creating the new breed.


brown tabby maine coon with green eyes outside

Captain Coon's Cats?

Another Maine Coon history fable involves a captain who may or may not have existed, by the name of Captain Charles Coon. There is no record of him. As the story goes, he was very fond of longhaired cats, of which he had many.

When he went ashore, some of his ship cats would be left behind. Then longhaired kittens would show up in local litters.

The comment would be made "there is one of Coon's cats". Who knows?


friends holding cats on laps
friends holding cats on laps

Maine Coon History: Natural Selection

Lastly, and most plausibly, is that the Maine Coon characteristics simply evolved out of necessity.

Northern New England in its early days was a very busy sea port. Seamen from all over the world docked regularly.

They were well known for having pet cats on board for company, and to keep the rodent population under control.

So, some of these cats from all over the world would have been left behind in the harsh climate. Longhaired cats, especially the Norwegian Forest Cat were popular in those days.

They would soon have developed the characteristics needed to survive the harsh winters here in the state of Maine.


white norwegian forest cat in the grass


So now, when someone asks you, "Where did the Maine Coon come from?", you can answer confidently, "I don't know!" 

The mysterious Maine Coon history makes them all that much more alluring!


Rise of the Maine Coon Cat Breed

Now we pick up the story in the mid to late 1800's. It's at this time, in Maine, when we find the first documented Maine Coon cat.


brown tabby maine coon cat in grass outdoors


His name was Captain Jenks. He was co-owned by Mrs. F. R. Pierce and her younger brother.

Mrs. Pierce wrote about and Captain Jenks, dating his time as a housecat at 1861. She also wrote about early cat shows in the eastern U.S. in the 1870's.

In those days the Maine Coon was already recognized as a breed. It was referred to as a Maine cat, a Shag, a Snughead, or a Coon.

The European Cat Fancy was just taking hold. There were big-city cat shows held in the 1870's that included the Maine Coon cat breed.


red maine coon cat rolling on furniture


Then, in May of 1895 the largest and most famous of the early cat shows was held in New York, in Madison Square Garden. This is the first major cat show most people know about, and associate it with the beginning of the cat fancy here in the U.S.

The Maine Coon cat breed was well represented. Cosey, a female Maine cat won first place and best in show.

The Maine cat remained popular. In the Boston show circuit, one of Mrs. Pierce's cats, Max, won in 1897, '98, and '99. Then he was defeated by his son in 1900.

Shortly after that, the Maine cat began losing popularity. The next big thing was the imported Persian cat.

They began their rise to the top, leaving the Maine cat in the dust. The last big win for a Coon was in 1911, then the Maine cat went into virtual oblivion.

They were still loved, cherished and admired here in Maine. This is where loyal fans of the breed kept record of their lineage and preserved the breed.


The Maine Coon Cat Breed Bounces Back

red cream maine coon cat posing

In 1953, the Central Maine Cat Club was created. The CMCC held local cat shows featuring the Maine Coon.

These shows rapidly grew in popularity. It was just the exposure that the Maine Coon needed.

In 1968, the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was established.

It is responsible for promoting the breed, establishing a breed standard, and getting the Maine Coon back in to the cat shows.

By 1976, the Maine Coon cat breed was once again fully recognized throughout the cat fancy, thanks to the MCBFA. It rose back up the ranks of popularity.

It is now, of course, a champion among champions. The Maine Coon is regularly listed among the most popular cat breeds, and their fans are numerous!


Top of Maine Coon History

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