The Maine Lobster Festival Has Been Around Longer Than You'd Expect

For much of the year, Rockland, Maine is a quaint small town, enjoying sweeping views of the Penobscot Bay, unrivaled sailing waters, and freshly caught seafood. But once a year, the city of 7,000 welcomes 70,000 visitors for the Maine Lobster Festival, a grand celebration of the state's favorite crustacean that's second to none.

At the five-day seafood bash, over 100 vendors offer prime Maine lobster, seafood, handmade crafts, and souvenirs for the masses, while parades, cook-off competitions, and races keep the visitors busy in between all the feasting. Intrepid racers can also compete in the Lobster Crate Race, where a long line of buoyant lobster crates are strung together to form a precarious bridge over the icy Maine waters. This whimsical game is over 50 years old, first kicked off in the 1970s by William Atwood and his family. 

In fact, visitors may be surprised to learn that this state festival is even older than that and is entering its 76th year, having first been organized in 1947. So what's the origin story behind this Lobster extravaganza?    

More than seventy years in the making

The history of the festival is intrinsically linked with the history of its hometown, Rockland, Maine. The small town has lived several lives, existing as a quicklime producer, a shipbuilding hub, and an industrial cannery base at different periods. In the mid-20th century, the economic powers that be decided to revitalize Rockland's image from a hard-knock, blue-collar town to a charming tourist destination. Enter the Maine Lobster Festival, an event hoping to support the Maine fishing communities as well as the local tourism industry. 

As Festival President Celia Knight told the Culture Trip, "The reason [the festival] got started was the community wanted a way to gather everybody together, and there was a surplus of lobsters back then." What started as a gamble paid off, leading to the town embracing the festival as an annual event. Every year the event gained steam until it became one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Maine. Best of all, this lobster-centric celebration does more than provide a much-needed boost to the economy. 

Since the 1990s, the Maine Lobster Festival has donated to local Maine communities, helping fund scholarships, ambulances, food pantries, and much more. It currently exists as a non-profit, relying on nearly 1,300 volunteers to staff the event each summer. If you'd like to get a taste of this local lobster-palooza, head to Rockland from August 2nd through the 6th.