Nautical. the stay that secures the mainmast forward.
a person or thing that acts as a chief support or part: Coffee is the mainstay of the country's economy.

1475–85; main1 + stay2

2. pillar, bulwark, anchor, prop. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
mainstay (ˈmeɪnˌsteɪ)
1.  nautical the forestay that braces the mainmast
2.  a chief support

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

"chief support," 1787, figurative use of a nautical noun meaning "stay which extends from the main-top to the foot of the foremast" (late 15c.), from main (adj.) + stay (n.).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Quantum entanglement is such a mainstay of modern physics that it is worth
  reflecting on how long it took to emerge.
Tourism, a mainstay of the economy, had nearly collapsed.
Smokestack industries, previously the economy's mainstay, became a liability
It is a mainstay in every notable economy in the world.
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