One of the oldest natural breeds in North America, the Maine Coon is generally regarded as a native of the state of Maine (in fact, the Maine Coon is the Maine State Cat). A number of attractive legends surround it's origin. A wide spread (though biologically impossible) belief is that it originated from matings between semi-wild, domestic cats and raccoons. This myth, bolstered by the bushy tail and the most common coloring (a raccoon-like brown tabby) led to the adoption of the name "Maine Coon". (Originally, only brown tabbies were called "Maine Coon Cats", cats of other color were referred to as "Maine Shags".) Another popular theory is that the Maine Coon sprang from the six pet cats which Marie Antoinette sent to Wiscasset, Maine when she was planning to escape from France during the French Revolution. Most breeders believe that the breed originated in matings between pre-exciting shorthaired domestic cats and overseas longhairs (perhaps Angora types introduced by New England seaman, or longhairs brought to America by the Vikings.
First recorded in cat literature in 1861 with a mention of a black and white cat named "Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines," Maine Coons were popular competitors at early cat shows in Boston and New York. A brown tabby female named "Cosie" won Best Cat at the 1895 Madison Square Garden Show.
Unfortunately, their popularity as show cats declined with the arrival in 1900 of the more flamboyant Persians. Although the Maine Coon remained a favorite cat in New England, the breed did not begin to regain its former widespread popularity until the 1950's when more and more cat fanciers began to take notice of them, show them, and record their pedigrees. In 1968, six breeders formed the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers Association (MCBFA) to preserve and protect the breed. Today, MCBFA membership numbers over 1000 fanciers and 200 breeders. By 1980, all registries had recognized the Maine Coon, and it was well on its way to regaining its former glory.
Maine Coons were well established more than a century ago as a hardy, handsome breed of domestic cat, well equipped to survive the hostile New England winters. Nature is not soft-hearted. It selects the biggest, the brightest, the best fighters, and the best hunters to breed successive generations. Planned breedings of Maine Coons are relatively recent. Since planned breedings began, Maine Coon breeders have sought to preserve the Maine Coon's "natural," rugged qualities. The ideal Maine Coon is a strong, healthy cat.
Interestingly, the breed closest to the Maine Coon is the Norwegian Forest Cat which, although geographically distant, evovled in much the same climate, and lends credence to the theory that some of the cats responsible for developing the Maine Coon were brought over by the Vikings.