GM’s Tribute to Maine

Posted July 20, 2009, at 7:07 p.m.

On the wall of a home in Walpole hangs a faded document dated July 18, 1932, “A Tribute to Maine.” The owner had found it in a flea market, framed it and kept it as a historic relic.

It is a transcript of a broadcast by General Motors to the state of Maine. When the statement was aired, GM was flying high as one of the biggest corporations in the nation. It was just entering what its historians call its “Emotion” era of 1930 to 1959. It had abandoned the separate headlights, running boards and bumpers of an earlier era.

The former behemoth is now humbled by bankruptcy, although restructured and heading into what it hopes will be a return to greatness. Here is what the once-great company said about Maine and Mainers 77 years ago.

The broadcast called Maine “a valiant soldier,” with men “who battled for their empire against the Indians and the French” and “marched with Arnold up the Kennebec to storm Quebec.” Maine was “a dauntless sailor”: “Her fishing boats routed British warships in the first naval battle of the Revolution. Maine-built ships and Maine-bred seamen sailed the seven seas long before the days of the Yankee clipper.”

It told how Maine’s fisheries “enrich our tables with herring and lobster, haddock and cod” and how Maine’s quarries “yield granite monoliths for our great cathedrals.” It said Maine supplied “lumber for our houses, paper for our books” and “America’s richest crop of potatoes.”

But “most of all, and best of all, she has been a mother or foster-mother of noble men and women.” It listed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, walking “with Hawthorne on the campus of old Bowdoin” and Edna St. Vincent Millay “singing words on paper.” It told of Lillian Nordica’s melodies, Robert E. Peary’s and Donald MacMillan’s polar expeditions, James G. Blaine as “the Plumed Knight,” and Hudson and Hiram Maxim as early inventors.

Then came Robert Hallowell Gardiner opening the first school of agriculture, Frank Munsey and Cyrus H.K. Curtis dreaming of magazines.

GM noted that “almost the whole government of the United States [was] in the hands of men from Maine” when Thomas B. Reed was speaker of the House, William P. Frye was president pro tem of the Senate and Chief Justice Melville Fuller presided over the Supreme Court.

Among writers and artists, it mentioned Artemus Ward, Bill Nye, Sarah Orne Jewett, C.A. Stephens, Kate Douglas Wiggins, Elijah Kellogg and Seth Parker.

It praised Maine’s starry nights, trim farms, a trout leaping for a gnat, a deer stepping lightly down to a brook and the harsh cry of a loon cutting the darkness.

Finally, the broadcast said: “Pine Tree State, General Motors salutes you! Accept our tribute to your industry and your rich tradition, and to the haunting loveliness that lures the traveler back and back again to your open, hospitable door!”

That description remains apt nearly eight decades later.

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