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20th Century Hemp

1913: USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) publishes a yearbook article on hemp written by botanist Lyister H Dewey.

1916: USDA bulletin #404 is written on hemp herd paper and issued under the title “Hemp Herds as Paper Making Material”. The report states that even then, forests were being cut down three times faster than they grew and called for alternatives to the use of timber, including using hemp pulp instead of tree pulp for paper. It also announces a fiber separating machine that would greatly reduce labor costs, improve paper quality, and preserve forests by providing low cost, abundant sources of pulp to fill the worlds growing need for paper. It further states that 10,000 “acres devoted to hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp wood timber lands”. Hemp has now received US government sanction as a viable and important cash crop that could replace forest products as a source of paper pulp.

1917: With the outbreak of WW 1, imports of Russian hemp virtually cease and manufactures once again look for domestic sources. The yearbook of the United States Department reports “the total acreage of hemp of the entire country doubled annually, reaching an estimated 42,000 acres in 1917”.

German inventor Goerge Schlichten seems to solve the labor intensive problem of hemp growing with his invention of a decorticator that would compete in the paper industry. He presents his idea and is given a patent. His new invention raises the use of the fibers to 95%, a three fold improvement over previous yields. Mysteriously, however, the paper trail of Schlichten’s invention disappears in the mid 1920’s. During the following decade, several companies build factories that use innovative fiber separating equipment but no one knows if they were based on Schlichten’s invention or not. The Schlichten documents also reveal several important issues. Including the fact that industrialists are well aware that America’s forests were in danger and not inexhaustible. Never the less, low prices are maintained through market conditions and subsidized lumber from the National Forests. Today, fewer than 1 million acres of primeval lands are left of the 800 million only four centuries ago.

1920s to 1930s: there is a growing demand for using “agricultural waste” from corn, flax, wheat, cotton, and other crops including hemp in making paper. This raises the ire of the USDA, who issues another bulletin in 1932 on the development on the southern pine rather than hemp for producing paper. This is a total reversal of their 1916 report, not surprisingly, Du Pont and other large chemical manufacturers controlled the patents and processes for making paper from tree pulp. Although hard to prove, this association does lend itself to open speculation that their vested interest influenced the choice for wood products over farm products, including and especially hemp. As a result today, we now have denuded hillsides, causing landslides, changing weather patterns because of the lack of trees, and creating down stream water pollution from the scores of pulp mills. All of these have greatly contributed to world wide environmental concerns.

From 1927-1931, the US constitution is virtually rebuilt. The rope walk in Charlestown Navy Yard manufactures the ancient style, four stranded hemp shroud-laid cordage required for her standing rigging. “Charlestown rope walk is slated for restoration and tall ships may once again be rigged for hempen cordage from this monument, which literally and figuratively lies in the shadow of Bunker Hill and Old Ironsides.

During the 1930’s, many groups, including pharmaceutical companies who are patenting medicines have vested interest in discrediting hemp. However, they cannot patent a plan concentrate whose complex chemical structure had not yet been identified. With hemp off the market, they would be able to patent and market “second best drugs”. Jack Herrer, in his book ‘The Emperor Wears no Clothes’, outlines the role that Du Pont and Hearst play in pushing for intense regulation in hemp. The chemical company saw hemp as a threat to the synthetic fiber market that they had just invented, and Hearst saw cheap pulp as a threat to the value of his massive forest holdings. Both these companies used their influence and media power to push restrictive legislation. In addition, southern congressmen are firmly in the hands of cotton fiber producers and help in the restrictive efforts. Hearst is credited for introducing the term “Marijuana” to the American public. He owned vast timber holdings which supplied the paper industry and which used chemicals developed by his friend, Du Pont, and he also hated minorities especially Mexicans, and used his news paper chain to aggravate racial tensions as often as he could. This hatred may have stemmed from his loss of some 800,000 acres of prime timber land to the rebel army of Poncho Villa. Consequently, in response to Ford and other companies who are promising to make every product from hemp, Du Pont lobbies the treasury department for it’s prohibition, assuring chief counsel, Herman Oliphant, that his synthetic petro chemicals could replace hemp seed oil in the market place. As a result of greed and hatred, the once vital hemp plant and the reputations of minorities, especially Mexicans are systematically reduced to garbage.

1935: Popular Science hails hemp as the new “Billion Dollar Crop” but two years later it is banned.

1937: industrial hemp companies spring up across the US mid-west overshadowing Kentucky and Missouri as the nations major hemp producers. There were several important firms in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The February issue of Popular Mechanics notes that a large paper company, which had been paying more than a million dollars a year in duties on foreign made cigarette papers, has switched to hemp grown in Minnesota. Although the magazine down played the connection with Marijuana, it is too late to stop the presses because at the same time, the government is passing the Marijuana Tax Act, a death blow to the hemp industry. As a result of it’s red tape measures, hemp growing and production fell off sharply, despite it’s supposedly permitted licensing. Obtaining a federal government license is so difficult that most hemp farmers and processors simply give up.

1938: a Popular Mechanics article states: “American farmers are promised a new cash crop… a machine has been invented that solves a problem more than 6000 years old… designed for removing the fiber from the rest of the stock… hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5000 textile products ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody “herds”… can be used to produced more than 25,000 products ranging from dynamite to cellophane. It can be grown in any state in the union.”

1939: because of the war and the resulting destruction of import routes for fiber plants, hemp cultivation now becomes necessary world wide.

1941: in the December issue of Popular Mechanics, Henry Ford proudly displays the results of the twelve years of research — the first automobile “grown from the soil”. The car has a plastic body made from 70% hemp, wheat straw and sisal, with a 30% hemp resin binder. The only steel portion of the car is the welded tubular frame. The vehicle weighs 1/3 that of the regular car, but has demonstrated 10X the impact strength.

1942: the USDA issues a film entitled “Hemp for Victory” it can still be purchased today and seen on the internet.

1943: USDA farmers bulletin #1935 entitled “Hemp” is issued to farmers in January. Hemp is used to sew millions of pairs of boots for American soldiers, and hemp twine for tying and upholstery. Thousands of feet of hemp rope are supplied to each battle ship. In fact, the parachute that saved George H.W Bushes life during WW ll was rigged with hemp. Even four – H clubs in Kentucky plant their own hemp patches “ to serve their country in war time”. By wars end, nearly a million acres of hemp have been cultivated to support the war effort.

1945: the end of World War ll and the cultivation of hemp in the western world decreased to an insignificant level.

1950’s: in April 1952, during the Korean war, the USDA re-issues farmers bulletin #1935 but by 1957, prohibitionists have re-imposed a total ban on the domestic hemp industry which has been in effect ever since.

Hemp seed production in Russia averages 250,000 tones and is twice that of Manchuria. Today the best seed producing varieties of Russian hemp can yield 1000 kg per hectare (892 lbs/acre)

1970’s: locally grown hemp seed and the oil pressed from it are observed by a National Geographic expedition documenting traditional Nepalese village life.