Last week we looked at how Maine’s natural resources and manufacturing economies have been declining, while a new economy driven by innovators and entrepreneurs has been rising. It turns out that this state’s economy has risen and fallen a few times before, each time in response to transformative changes in technology and trade that are similar to changes happening today.

A century and a half ago, Maine was a major player in the national economy, with its population increasing by 8 percent a decade. We were one of the youngest – not the oldest – states in America, and a national powerhouse in lumber and fish. Maine-built sailing ships were considered among the best in the world, and Maine captains and crews could be found in every corner of the globe.

But by the end of the 19th century, Maine’s first modern crash happened, after changes in technology, transportation, storage and trade led to collapses in cotton milling, forestry, farming, ice production and the end of wooden sailing ships.

Mainers, then as now, struggled to find a way forward. Our response was to become a state of tinkerers and clever inventors, less connected to the world but perhaps more connected to each other. Innovation became more important than before. And it became encoded into our cultural DNA.

A hundred years ago, a 40-year-old dry goods clerk with an eighth-grade education started stitching together a new kind of boot in a basement workshop from materials paid for with a $400 loan from his brother. The clerk, born and raised in Greenwood, Maine, was an avid hunter and had hit upon what he thought would be ideal footwear for his backwoods outings: a waterproof rubber shoe stitched to a comfortable, ankle-high leather upper. He employed a new marketing innovation – catalog sales – and promised a money-back guarantee, no questions asked.

His first shipment was a failure, resulting in 90 percent of the orders being returned. Undaunted, Leon Leonwood Bean refunded every customer, borrowed another $400 from his brother and perfected his design. The new boots were a hit and remain so today, the hallmark of the company L.L. Bean built, which now employs close to 5,000 Mainers.

Those boots made L.L. Bean the iconic Maine innovator. But long before L.L. Bean, Maine was one of the birthplaces of what used to be called Yankee ingenuity. L.L. Bean became part of a long string of Maine doers and inventors who saw their world changing and seized the opportunities that change presented. They made investments, took calculated risks and became catalysts for both the economy and the state.

 Shepard Cary built an Aroostook timber empire. From the beginning, Maine was blessed with great forests, but the trees didn’t get themselves to market. Entrepreneurs, working with creative woodcutters, built the industry that made Bangor the “lumber capital of the word.” Cary started out small and created a vast timber operation in Aroostook County that, by the early 1840s, employed more than 2,000 people.

John Alfred Poor brought Canadian grain to Portland. In 1845, Poor saw that Canada needed an ice-free winter port through which it could ship grain from the Canadian heartland to Europe. Facing direct competition from Boston, Poor undertook an epic sleigh ride from Montreal to Portland during a February blizzard to demonstrate that Portland provided a faster, more direct and more economical route. His success made Portland a major shipping port, produced the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad and led to the founding of The Portland Co. which became a major manufacturer of locomotives and pulp machines.

Hugh Chisholm created Maine’s paper industry. After the Civil War, the country’s growing and more literate population created a new demand for paper. Chisholm recognized that Maine’s trees could be used for more than masts and lumber. He built state-of-the-art paper mills, first in Rumford and then elsewhere, and helped establish the paper industry as a dominant force in Maine’s economy, culture and identity.

Nathan and Isaac Winslow shipped Maine foods to the nation. One of the ways Maine compensated for its distance from markets was by developing alternative ways to process, store and transport food. In the 1850s, the Winslows were among the first in the United States to develop a viable canning process. By the early 1900s, Maine had 111 vegetable canneries that employed thousands of Maine men, women and children.

Walter Wyman electrified Maine. In 1899, Wyman and his partner Harvey Eaton purchased the small Oakland Electric Light Co. By improving the company’s infrastructure, they became successful enough to purchase other small, community-based power companies. By 1910, Central Maine Power Co. had been formed, and electricity was transforming Maine’s landscape, communities and economy.

These pioneers and innovators, together with thousands of others like them, built the foundations of today’s Maine economy which, by the middle of the last century, was doing reasonably well.

Then a new downward spiral set in, as globalization and technology conspired to change Maine’s fortunes once again. Many jobs vanished or were shipped to the southern United States, Mexico, Brazil or China, where costs were lower. In Maine’s forests, a dozen woodcutters armed with chainsaws and skidders were replaced by three people with mechanized harvesters. The workers required to produce paper fell by more than half between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. Our last sardine canning plant closed in 2011. Between 1980 and 2004, employment in manufacturing fell from 24 percent to 10 percent.

Faced with such devastating changes in our economy, Mainers have been pulling in multiple directions. Some have insisted that the old economy will return, if we wait long enough, while others have been hard at work building the foundations of the next economy. That latter group has focused, particularly, on new ways to farm or how to use our natural resources in different and more productive ways. Others have created advanced, solid and wholesome products that reflect and enhance Maine’s brand.

We profile 25 of those modern-day pioneers in the book,”Maine’s Next Economy.” Among them are Tom and Kate Chappell, who built Tom’s of Maine, starting with an environmentally friendly laundry detergent. Roxanne Quimby made a lip balm out of beeswax to create Burt’s Bees. Jonathan King and Jim Stott sold homemade jam at the farmers’ market and built Stonewall Kitchen. A small spa in western Maine became the world-famous Poland Spring Water. Hundreds of others have followed in their footsteps to build new companies in food, energy, technology and quality Maine products.

The question for Maine now is: How can we accelerate the growth of that new economy? How can we make Maine famous not only for its rockbound coast and lighthouses but also because we’ve become a magnet for innovation, startups, small businesses and new ideas?

More on that next week.