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History of hemp
US History of Hemp Once upon a time, and a long time ago there was hemp and it was looked upon as a good crop! It was so good in fact that you could be arrested if you weren’t growing it! Quite a change from the present, but before I get ahead of myself, lets starting the beginning.
The Columbia History of the World (1996) states that that weaving of hemp fiber began over 10,000 years ago. There are carbon test that have suggested the use of wild hemp dates as far back as 8000 B.C. The widespread use and production of hemp throughout the UK 800-1800AD was discovered by analysis of soil sediments and indicates its greatest peak of usage was up until 100AD, after which other crops were beginning to be developed.
In the 16th Century Henry VIII encouraged farmers to plant the crop widely to provide supplies for the British Navy. A steady supply of hemp was needed for the construction of battleships and their components. Riggings, pendants, pennants, sails, and flags we all made from hemp fiber. Hemp was also used as a sealant on the timber of ships. Hemp paper used for maps, logs, and even Bibles that may have been on board.
In the 17th Century farmers in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut were all ordered by law to grow Indian hemp and by the early 18th century you could actually go to jail if you were not growing hemp on your land. In this time period hemp was considered to be legal tender, in other words hemp was money you could pay your taxes with hemp for over 200 years!
The 19th century was a big deal for hemp! The report on the culture of hemp and jute in the United States by the USDA Office of Fiber Investigations came about. This document states that Russian hemp fared better in the competition between it and American domestic hemp. So not only were we in America using hemp as a valuable resource. Other countries were hot on that industrial trail as well! Around 1850 or so the U.S. census counted almost 8,400 hemp plantations that had at least 2000 acres of land or more. Several different varieties of hemp were grown in this country. The most common hemp was cultivated in Kentucky and having a hollow stem. China hemp, with slender stems, growing very erect, has a wide range of culture. Smyrna hemp is adapted to cultivation over a still wider range and Japanese hemp is beginning to be cultivated, particularly in California, where it reaches a height of 15 feet. Russian and Italian seed have been experimented with; Russian produces a short stalk, while Italian only grows to a medium height. In 1896 Rudolph Diesel produced his famous engine. He, like many others assumed that the diesel engine would be powered by a variety of fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils. Rudolph Diesel believed vegetable fuels were superior to petroleum. Hemp is the most efficient vegetable and cleanest burning fuel ever created!
Approaching the 20th Century there was a machine break through for the harvesting of hemp. This machine would break the retted stalks and clean the fiber, which would produce clean, straight fiber equal to the best grades prepared on hand brakes, and it had a capacity of 1000 pounds or more of clean fiber per hour. This meant that they were able to harvest at extremely fast rates and at 50 cents per acre verses the three or four dollars per acre when harvested by hand.
Around 1918 Wisconsin was the first in the US to start mass growth of Italian hemp. At this time there was no machine that would take care of all the processes of harvesting, spreading, binding, or breaking. Only the machine mentioned earlier that was hand break operated and only used when harvesting. When the work in Wisconsin began it was noticed that no permanent progress could be made as long as it was dependant upon hand labor, immediate attention was given to solving the problem for power machinery. Nearly every kind of hemp machine was studied and tested. Through the cooperation of experienced hemp workers and one large harvesting machinery company, this problem was solved. By 1920 the hemp crop was entirely handled by machinery. One of the most amazing events for the hemp industry was when Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company began to see a future in biomass fuels. Ford operated a successful biomass conversion plant, which included hemp, at their Iron Mountain facility in Michigan. Ford engineers extracted methanol, charcoal fuel, tar, pitch, ethyl acetate and creosote. All fundamental ingredients for modern industry and now supplied by oil-related industries. Since other industries saw hemp as more of threat than a helpful friend, they refused to let that stand in the way of their determination to dominate their particular market! As the old adage goes this was the beginning of the end! In the late 1930s a series of very negative PR campaigns were launched against hemp, which led to its demise. In 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively began the era of hemp prohibition. The tax and licensing regulations of the act made hemp cultivation nearly impossible for American farmers. The chief promoter of the Tax Act, Harry Anslinger, he began promoting anti-marijuana legislation around the world. World War II was and interesting problem when American Farmers couldn’t produce the amounts of hemp needed because of the 1937 law, we still had our over seas contact…well not after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This put a quick halt to our Manila hemp fiber from the Philippines. The USDA came out with their film Hemp for Victory to try and get American Farmers to grow hemp for war efforts. The government formed a private company called War Hemp Industries and subsidized hemp cultivation. During this time period about one million acres of hemp were grown across the Midwest as part of this program. As soon as the war ended all of the hemp processing plants were shut down and the industry again disappeared.
From 1937 until the late 1960s the United States government recognized that Industrial hemp and marijuana were two distinct varieties of the cannabis plant. After the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), hemp was no longer recognized as being distinct from marijuana. Please go to the hemp university to learn more!