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Lobster History

The rise of lobster from poor to rich man's food


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Live and Cooked Lobsters

© 2007 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone
It's hard to believe that lobster was once considered poor man's food and was even used as fish bait, but this is indeed the case. Today, it is a bit more costly but still widely available in many forms. With such a rich flavor, it is easy to stretch lobster in sauces, spreads, and casseroles to ease the cost burden.

Lobster History

The lobster is a crustacean in the Homarus genus. Having five pairs of legs including two large foreclaws and a curling tail, it very much resembles its land counterpart, the scorpion. The word lobster comes from the English loppestre and Latin locusta. Lobsters are saltwater creatures, with many varieties found around the world.

At the time North America was receiving its first European settlers, lobsters were abundant, often washing up on shore to form piles up to two feet high. Since they were so plentiful and easy to harvest, lobsters were a frequent meal for poor families near the coast. The disdain for lobster slowly waned over the centuries, and the poor man's chicken soon became the rich man's prize.

By the 1840's, commercial fisheries were in full swing in Maine, catering to a public that couldn't get enough of these crustaceans. Shipments soon were spanning the globe giving rise to the fame of Maine lobsters. Land transportation brought the lobster inland as well, reaching Chicago in 1842. Soon there were lobster palaces in most major cities, where affluent diners showed off their wealth by consuming several lobsters at a sitting.

By 1885, the lobster industry was thriving, with production reaching 130 million pounds per year. Fishermen were rejoicing at the unheard of earnings of ten cents a lobster while consumers were complaining of high prices, paying ten to twelve cents per pound.

Unfortunately, the voracious appetite of the public took its toll on the lobster population, and within little more than twenty years, the lobster beds had been so depleted that production had dropped to only 33 million pounds per year.

Due to strict conservation measures, production has again risen to over 70 million pounds per year in the USA, with additional amounts of other varieties being supplied by Mexico, Australia, South Africa and South America. Today, many of the "Maine" lobsters now come from Canada.

These lobsters of yore were much larger than we are used to seeing today, often weighing in at forty or more pounds, whereas the average market size now is one to two pounds.

The world record lobster was caught in 1977 in Nova Scotia, Canada, weighing in at 44 pounds, 6 ounces, measuring nearly four feet long. A 42-pound lobster taken in 1935 now proudly resides in the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts. Considering it takes five to seven years for a lobster to reach the weight of one pound, one can only wonder how old those lobsters were, but the guess is around sixty to seventy years.

More About Lobster:

Lobster Cooking Tips
Lobster Selection and Storage
Lobster Terminology
How to Humanely Kill a Lobster
Lobster Equivalents, Measures and Famous Recipes
Lobster History
Lobster Recipes


Lobster At Home
Fish & Shellfish
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood
Big Book of Fish & Shellfish
More Cookbooks
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