Sure, there’s only one capital city of Maine. The people of Augusta can hold on to that distinction. But what about the other capitals in Maine — the capitals of things?
How many of these towns or cities are not just renowned in this state, but the entire world, for their singular contribution to society?
Did you know Kurobe, Japan, is the zipper capital of the world? The founder of YKK grew up there; the company now produces roughly half the world’s supply of zippers.
How about the denim to go with those zippers? It turns out, the jeans capital of the world was once in El Paso, Texas. In the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of people worked there to create jeans for Levi’s, Lee, Guess, Gap and other brands.
But fortune is fickle. Today, the jeans capital of the world is in Xintang, China, which produces 300 million pairs of jeans each year.
“Capitals of the world” can earn their title just through the volume of stuff they produce or because someone — a tourism-minded city councilor, for instance — said so. They let local residents promote the special history or product that helps define their place.
Rockland, it turns out, holds the self-proclaimed title “lobster capital of the world.” The Penobscot Bay is home to many, many delicious lobsters, and the city hosts the Lobster Festival each year. Just off the coast of Rockland, the first lobster pound was established in 1876 on the island of Vinalhaven.
(As a side note, lobsters are incredibly fascinating creatures. You’ll find their brain in their throat, their teeth in their stomach and their kidneys in their head. They feel with their feet and hear with their legs. Also, you probably think of lobsters as decadent, but they have fewer calories than an equal portion of chicken.)
There’s one other town that made Atlas Obscura’s “capital of the world” list. It’s Farmington, the county seat of Franklin County. Ever heard of Chester Greenwood? As a cold, ice-skating 15-year-old growing up there in 1873, he invented the earmuff, leading the town to earmuff fame. It’s now the earmuff capital of the world.
Every year in December there’s a parade where participants have to incorporate earmuffs in their floats, and the Maine Legislature has proclaimed December 21 as Chester Greenwood Day.
Some of you might also remember another Franklin County town — Strong — as the toothpick capital of the world. Around the time of World War II, the wooden toothpick business boomed there. At one point, the small town and surrounding area produced 95 percent of all wooden toothpicks manufactured in America.
With the rise of nylon floss, though, toothpick manufacturing dwindled and finally ceased. As Atlas Obscura put it:
Like the passenger pigeon that once flew in billion-strong flocks over Maine before being hunted to extinction, so the Strong toothpick, once found in pearly whites the world over, has entirely vanished.
You can learn about more “surprising capitals of the world” and peruse an interactive map here.