Kate Law, production manager at the Maine Flag Company, sews the pine tree onto the company’s version of the original 1901 Maine flag in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mainers soon might get to vote on whether to go back to the state’s first flag. But the image most people are seeing isn’t the original flag.

What’s often described as the “original” 1901 design, which appears on T-shirts and hats and other Maine-themed souvenirs, was actually created just five years ago by a Portland flag company. The original, historians say, has a more lifelike tree with three curving roots at its center.

The 1901 Maine state flag believed to have been designed by Gen. John Richards.

The Maine House voted 75-63 Monday, joining the Senate in its support of L.D. 86, which aims to restore the 1901 flag, putting it on track to be sent to Gov. Janet Mills, who has not revealed whether she would sign the bill into law.

The bill was amended to require the change to be sent to voters for approval, but like most bills, it has no pictures.

And thus, the confusion about what the new version of the old flag could or should look like, has stirred some debate.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows would make the final decision, Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, who sponsored the bill, said Monday.


“(The bill has) the same word-for-word language from 1901 that created the original flag,” Paulhus said.

The 1901 law described the flag as tan with “a pine tree proper in the center and the polar star (a mullet of five points), in blue in the upper corner,” but does not go into further detail.

According to a spokesperson for Bellows, if Mills does sign the bill, the question on November’s ballot would be: “Do you favor making the former state flag, replaced as the official flag of the State in 1909 and commonly known as the Pine Tree Flag, the official flag of the State?”

“There would not be a picture on the ballot, though we anticipate there would be a picture (of the flag) in the Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election that we put out before each referendum election,” Emily Cook said in an email.

A version of the original 1901 Maine flag flies outside a shop on Commercial Street in Portland on Monday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A model flag design is expected to be chosen with input from experts in vexillology – the study of flags – and related fields, Cook said.

The original design was used for just eight years until it was changed to the current design in 1909. There is no written record about why the flag was changed, said Kate McBrien, the Maine state archivist.


The flag currently in use features the state seal, with a moose resting under a pine tree flanked by a farmer and seaman on a blue field, and was designed by a joint legislative committee. There also have been discussions this legislative session about updating the state seal to make it more gender-inclusive and using a similar, simple version of the 1901 flag on license plates.

But because the 1901 law and description are so vague, dozens of adaptations have emerged in the following 122 years.

The original flag is believed to have been designed by Gen. John Richards, who led what was then called the Maine Militia, now the National Guard, said Earle Shettleworth, the state historian.


But what most Mainers have come to call the Pine Tree Flag was actually created by the Maine Flag Company in Portland.

The company’s workspace on Middle Street is filled with a handful of employees paying meticulous attention to the flags on their sewing machines. Two dogs run around the office. In a smaller room in the back, flags are laid out under a large light where they are completed in a process called snipping, to finish the hems and inspect the stitching.


The small company based its design – a tan flag with a blue, five-pointed star in the top left corner and a green stylized pine tree in the center – on the merchant and marine flag, as a way of remaining authentic to the 1901 law despite not finding an official record of the original flag.

The tree itself has started its own controversy, with some saying it’s not a pine. Yet, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry confirmed Monday the image is, indeed, an eastern white pine.

The stylized tree without the curvy roots is easier to create using traditional flag-making techniques, Maine Flag Company co-founder Chris Korzen said.

Bethany Field, co-founder and CEO of the Maine Flag Company, talks about the design of their rendition of the original 1901 Maine flag. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

They’ve sold about 9,000 of the flags since the company was founded in 2017, said co-founder Bethany Field, who handles daily operations.

The 1939 merchant and marine flag, which they also reproduce, has a white background with a green pine tree entangled in a blue anchor with the state’s motto “Dirigo” in blue lettering above the tree and “Maine” in blue lettering below it, according to state law.

They also have a version of the 1901 flag design that incorporates elements of the Pride Flag.


Maine Flag Company uses the traditional sewing technique, appliqué, to assemble flags. It takes about one hour to completely finish just one, but they typically work in batches, Field said.

The company has never sought a copyright for its design, Korzen said in an email.

“We don’t think of it as ‘our’ design or the ‘Maine Flag Company’ design. We think of it as the ‘1939 tree,’ ” Korzen said.

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report. 

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