At one time the Maine Coon cat was highly unpopular

It's hard to believe now but at one time just after the beginning of the cat fancy in America and the early formal cat shows, the Maine Coon cat's popularity declined rapidly because of the importation of highly exotic new breeds (as they were seen at the time) such as the Siamese and Persian. Please read on....

In the early years of the cat fancy in America, the Siamese and the Persian were exotic breeds which eclipsed the Maine Coon forcing a decline in the Maine Coon cat's popularity to near extinction of the breed.
In the early years of the cat fancy in America, the Siamese and the Persian were exotic breeds which eclipsed the Maine Coon forcing a decline in the Maine Coon cat's popularity to near extinction of the breed. Image: MikeB

A bit about the Maine Coon cat history before their popularity declined

There are many theories about the history of the Maine Coon cat. You make up your own mind about it but in my personal viewpoint, the common-sense argument is that the Maine Coon cat history started with the introduction of longhaired and medium-longhaired European cats into the east coast of the United States of America with the settlers from the late 1600s onwards. Click to read about the early development of the Maine Coon.

Unpopularity crept up on the Maine Coon

But this post is not about the old history of the Maine Coon cat but the more recent history. It may be surprising for some people to learn that there was a time when the Maine Coon cat, the biggest domestic cat breed, was so unpopular that the breed almost went 'extinct'.

But the Maine Coon cat has the remarkable distinction of being the very first cats to be exhibited in competition in America (with other cats). The first official cat show in the world occurred in 1871 in London at Crystal Palace but in America the first show occurred in 1895 in New York. And you probably know by now that a Maine Coon cat won the best cat in the show award.

Informal cat shows

Before that formal cat show the farmers were running informal annual cat shows at the Skowhegan Fair. Maine Coons were brought to the Fair from all over the region to compete for the title of "Maine State Champion Coon Cat".

Early advantage

And when the bigger shows began at the end of the 1800s, the Maine Coon at that time had a considerable advantage because they had already been competing if you like for over 30 years. They were, therefore, extremely popular and highly successful in those first days of formal cat shows in competing with other pedigree cats.

Early Maine Coons look like moggies by the day's standards

Of course, in those years the number of purebred cat breeds were far less than there are today. And when you look at the Maine Coon cats competing at that time they look like standard moggies by today's standards. Today's Maine Coons are highly selectively bred. It is very easy to distinguish them from the general random-bred domestic cat population.

Exotic breeds competed against the Maine Coons

And as the cat shows became more and more popular new and exotic cat breeds started to be shown. For example, the Siamese cat had been imported from Thailand (at the time the country was called Siam). The Siamese cat at that time was incredibly exotic and unusual because of their pointed coat with dark extremities. The Persian, too, was considered exotic. Both these cat breeds began to take over the cat show scene as they had done in Europe.

Decline in hobby breeder interest

This caused the popularity of the Maine Coon cat to decline considerably to the point where there were so totally eclipsed that they almost vanished. I suspect, that hobby cat breeders turned away from Maine Coons and started to breed Siamese cats and Persian cats and so on and so there were far less Maine Coon cats being bred in America which caused this near-extinction event of the breed.

The problem according to Dr. Desmond Morris, was familiarity. He said that, "As one Maine Coon enthusiast put it, early in the 20th century: 'The Maine people having had them so long, it is difficult to arouse any great enthusiasm about them'."

Cat shows were for urbanites not for farmers!

Although the farmers on the East Coast of America took pride in their Maine Coon cats, the cat shows and these new exotic breeds attracted the attention of urban dwelling humans! The new cat exhibitions were city affairs in the words of Dr. Desmond Morris. And the recently arrived breeds as mentioned above were "rare novelties and therefore much more appealing to the sophisticated urbanites who were flocking to the big shows."

The return of popularity

But with that near extinction event, there was a gradual return to the popularity of the Maine Coon in New England in the 1950s and the Maine Coon cat club was formed in 1953. In 1968 the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association was established and in 1976 this was joined by the International Society for the Preservation of the Maine Coon. And from this point onwards the breed began to grow in popularity and in 1980s its fame spread abroad.


The breed was introduced into Britain in 1983/84 although apparently the first Maine Coon in Europe was a pregnant female sent to Australia in 1953/54.

Modern day

And to be clear, only until the last five years or so has the Maine Coons entered the top three of the most popular cat breeds in the world. This, I would put down to the Internet particularly social media on which you will see many photographs of enormous and highly impressive Maine Coon cats some of which have been bred in Russia and Eastern European countries where they tend, I believe, to bred Maine Coon cats more to extreme than they do in America under the auspices of the Cat Fanciers' Association which has quite a moderate viewpoint about the Maine Coon cat's body conformation.



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