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The flag is 'pure Maine': State Rep. reintroduces bill to adopt original Maine flag

The flag, an image of a blue-colored north star over a lone pine tree on a buff-colored background, was the official flag of Maine from 1901 until 1909.
Credit: State of Maine / Maine Flag Company / Public Domain
Left: The original state flag; Right: Maine's current state flag.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine State Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, reintroduced legislation on Wednesday to adopt Maine’s original flag from 1901 as the state’s official flag.

The flag, an image of a blue-colored north star over a lone pine tree on a buff-colored background, was the official flag of Maine from 1901 until 1909, when it was replaced by Maine’s current flag.

“Maine people have embraced the original Maine flag as a symbol of pride, of place and of home, and it’s time to listen to them,” Paulhus, who is serving his second term in the Maine House, said. “Flags are important symbols for communities to honor what makes them unique. The original flag embodies our Dirigo motto, is pure Maine and cannot be mistaken for another state’s flag.”

Colloquially, the original flag has also been referred to as the 1820 flag in reference to the year Maine broke from Massachusetts and became its own state. It’s also been referred to as “the polaris and pine” or “the star and pine.”

A spokesperson for House Republicans told NEWS CENTER Maine that House Republicans "are working to are working to ensure that Maine citizens have access to their elected officials and the legislative process," and said "Mainers need to be able to weigh in on decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods, including proposals like changing the flag."

RELATED: Bill would reinstate pre-1909 Maine state flag

Similar legislation was last introduced two years ago by former Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who did not seek re-election due to term limits. That version of the bill passed but was scaled down into an order directing the Secretary of State to develop a special flag for Maine’s bicentennial.

Maine's current flag design is the 14th oldest in the country. 

Paulhus’s bill will next be referred to a committee and given a public hearing in 2021. 

Maine's flag design history

Two months after Maine's March 1820 admittance into the United States, the legislature adopted language governing a seal design. Col. Isaac G. Reed of Waldoboro is credited by historians with its description and explanation:

"The seal of the State shall be a shield in silver, on it is a pine tree with a moose lying at the foot of it;  on the left side of the shield is a farmer resting on a scythe; on the right side, a seaman, resting on an anchor."

"In the foreground, representing sea and land, and under the shield, shall be the name of the State in large Roman capitals: MAINE

"The whole shall be surrounded by a crest, the North Star. The motto, in small Roman capitals, shall be in a label resting between the shield and the crest reading: DIRIGO  (I lead)."

The seal's appearance varied during its early years of existence.

An initial sketch showed a deer instead of a moose, a more conventional shield and the farmer's scythe pointing downwards rather than the blade being on top. Later forms included the scythe being held behind the farmer's head as well as the replacement of a sextant for the mariner's anchor — an "inexplicable substitution," according to the Secretary of State's Office.

According to CRW Flags Inc., a retail store in Maryland, Maine's very first representation of a flag was produced in 1822, two years after achieving statehood. The Maine Militia's hand- then lithographic-printed silk flags featured the shield of the Maine Arms, a white pine tree with a moose underneath and two ribbons above and below listing "DIRIGO" and "MAINE."

Nearly 80 years passed before a flag was officially established by the state legislature. Per CRW Flags, a bill was introduced on March 6, 1901, and called on the declaration of a state flag "to be blue, charged with the Arms of the State in the colors and as described in the Resolves of the State of Maine from 1820 to 1828, Volume I, Chapter IV."

A subsequent draft introduced more specific details:

"The State Flag is hereby declared to be buff charged with the emblem of the State, a pine tree proper in the center and the polar star (a mullet of five points), in blue in the upper corner. The star to be equidistant from the hoist and upper border of the flag, the distance from the two borders to the center of the star equal to about one quarter the hoist. This distance and the size of the star being proportionate to the size of the flag."

The flag only lasted until 1909. That's when Maine's current flag was adopted. A decade later in 1919, the Maine Legislature finally fixed the present seal.