In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Life on a Tidal River

Ebb and Flow of Bangor History

Bangor: Lumber Capital of the World

View of the City of Bangor, 1837
View of the City of Bangor, 1837
Bangor Historical Society

Text by 7th grade Maine Studies students of the William S. Cohen School.

Images from Bangor Public Library and the Bangor Historical Society


From the first settlers of Bangor to the early 20th century, Bangor’s lumbering history has been rich and plentiful. Almost 90 percent of Maine was heavily forested land. Maine's white pine, an ideal wood with many uses was used for masts for ships, lobster traps, and lumber for houses.

The workers were the lumberjacks who would work for months clearing acres of heavily forested land to finally send the logs down the Penobscot River to Bangor. First the trees had to be cut, then taken to the river. From there, the river drivers guided the logs to Bangor and boom operators sorted the logs.

Finally, the lumberman sawed the logs into lumber for shipment. Companies from around the world came to Bangor for the huge amount of revenue waiting just up river.

By the mid 19th century the lumbering business in Bangor had grown to be famous around the world. By 1872 the peak of production had grown to its fullest. Bangor enjoyed the wealth that the lumbering business brought to them. However the Northwest Territories were beginning to be lumbered and the companies that were once in Bangor realized the potential there, and moved to Michigan and Wisconsin. The heydays of Bangor (1830s to 1870s) were gone and and this chapter of the Bangor lumbering history was closed, though the industry did continue into the 20th century.


During the mid 19th century, the lumberjack’s job was to cut down trees and and send them down river. Lumberjacks were strong, rugged men that were very skilled and talented people. They were so strong that they made hard tasks seem simple. Lumberjacks had spiked boots that made it so they wouldn’t slip on the logs, which was extremely important. Lumberjacks also had peaveys which were sharp claw-like hooks, used to move the logs downstream. These tools were very critical for lumberjacks.

Lumber Capital

There were many key factors that led Bangor to become the lumber capital of the world. Not only was Bangor situated on a tidal river which made it convenient for the ships to come in and out with the lumber, but Bangor was also the last deep water port on the Penobscot, with the Kenduskeag Stream ideally located nearby. Within five years of Bangor being settled (1769), the first sawmill had been built. By 1830, there were 300 sawmills along the Penobscot and the Kenduskeag.

As the wealth and value of Bangor and its lumbering industry grew, the population of Bangor increased greatly. From 1800 to 1830, the population grew from 800 to 8,000 people. Many men came with their families to find a job driving lumber in the heavily forested Maine woods. However, with this great expansion in population, the need for human services increased. Bangor’s size simply could not support the many people that came to live there. The lumberjacks brought families with them, but their children had few schools to attend. Bangor’s people also had only a small number of stores at which to shop. The many families did not have enough houses to live in. If Bangor was to continue to flourish with its lumbering business so industrious, it would need to provide better services for the people living there. As the population continued to increase, more schools, houses, and shops were established. They were built with the lumber that could be bought from their very own waterfront. Bangor began to support its people just as the lumbering business supported Bangor.

The Decline of Lumber

The lumbering industry of Bangor started to take a decline in the late 1800s. Towards the end, the Penobscot and Kenduskeag Rivers were polluted, which greatly affected the wildlife and environment. The lumber that had seemed so plentiful in Maine’s deep forests began to run out, as the lumbering companies used up their trees. At the same time, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869 which made it easier to ship products across the country. This decreased the need of having a lumbering town that was simultaneously a seaport. Westward Expansion continued, and many of Bangor’s people moved west and there were less people to hire for the various jobs associated with the lumbering industry. The west also appealed to big companies because there was a greater amount of trees there, for the companies to collect their lumber from.


Bangor, Maine played a big part in the lumbering industry during the early to mid nineteenth century, and the effect of the lumber on Bangor cannot be underestimated. Lumber exportation provided Bangor with an influx in population, caused by the many incoming laborers and their families. The lumbering business made Bangor into a global provider for timber. Bangor, a small town on a tidal river, was once famous as the Lumber Capital of the World.


Bangor History: the 1800’s. Bangor Public Library. n.d. Web. 12 March 2014.

Judd, Richard. Moving Lumber, Growing Bangor. Maine Memory Network. Maine Historical Society, 2000 – 2014. Web. 06 June 2014.

Lumber Industry. Maine: An Encyclopedia. Publius Research. 2012. Web. 05 February 2014.

Our Heritage. Bangor Museum and History Center. 2014. Web. 24 May 2014.

Reilly, Wayne E. Remembering Bangor: The Queen City before the Great Fire. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2009. Print.

Rolde, Neil. An Illustrated History of Maine. Augusta, Maine: Friends of the Maine State Museum, 1995. Print.

Robbins, Ryan. Bangor History. Bangor, Maine: History. Ryan R. Robbins, 1995 - 2012. Web. 21 May 2014.

Scee, Trudy. City on the Penobscot: A Comprehensive History of Bangor, Maine. Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2010. Print.

The Story of Bangor: A Brief History of Maine’s Queen City. Bangor, Maine: BookMarc’s Publishing, 1999. Print.

Zelz, Abigail and Zoidis, Marliyn. Woodsmen and Whigs: Historic Images of Bangor, Maine. Virginia: Donning Company, 1991. Print.