Maine Historical Society embraced the present day on May 6 by honoring the L.L.Bean family with a Maine History Maker Award in a completely virtual format.

“No one has shaped Maine’s identity, economy or brand as profoundly,” said Steve Bromage, executive director of Maine Historical Society.

Historian Earle G. Shettleworth put the rise of L.L.Bean in context, saying that the Civil War and the enticement of westward migration made Maine’s agricultural economy dip in the 1800s and Mainers began promoting tourism, made possible by steamships and railroads.

The origin story of the L.L.Bean brand goes back to 1911, when hunter and fisherman Leon Leonwood (L.L.) Bean was dissatisfied with his footwear and had a local cobbler stitch a pair of rubber soles on a pair of boots. For the next half century, L.L. was “like a pendulum within” between being a businessman and an outdoorsman, said his granddaughter, Linda Bean, a part owner and board member of the company.

Today, L.L.Bean employs 5,000 people and has $1.5 billion in annual sales, with influence far beyond Vacationland.

“Many family businesses do not survive beyond the second or third generation,” said board Chairman Shawn Gorman, L.L.’s great-grandson. “We’re thriving into our fifth, because of our commitment to build something that will last. Not just for our family, but for the people of Maine and all L.L.Bean stakeholders.”

Interviews with generations of the “cousin consortium” that has run L.L.Bean through the decades, historic photos of Mainers experiencing the joy of the outdoors, and old-time tunes by Roochie Toochie and Ragtime Shepherd Kings made for a lighthearted and inspiring 90-minute program. The video is available through June 3 at mainehistorymaker.org with the purchase of a “ticket” for $45.

After event-related expenses, the fundraiser brought in $90,000 to support the work of Maine Historical Society, preserving and sharing Maine’s story, highlighting new voices and providing much needed context for today’s world.

Amy Paradysz, a freelance writer from Scarborough, can be reached at [email protected].


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