HMJ Classic: A History of Hemp in America

As the nation prepares to re-embrace the cannabis plant, few among us know the American history of the hemp plant.


Hemp was integral to the early history of America. The plant itself was exchanged as money because the plant was used by all peoples in all places.   This practice continued until the early 1800′s.  In these days it was a rare farm that did not give at least one cultivated field over to the hemp plant.

By 1721 British colonists received subsidies from the Crown in exchange for growing hemp. This fed the enormous appetite of the British navy for hemp with which to make rope and sails. There were periods of time when the colonial government made the cultivation of hemp mandatory.

In 1733 South Carolina spent money promoting an interest in growing hemp and flax to its citizens. Georgia provided free seed and instructions to its’ farmers in 1767. North Carolina provided warehouse and inspection services for exports of hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. In 1810 John Quincy Adams traveled to Russia to study hemp growing in that country.

Hemp went west with the nation. Conestoga wagons were covered with canvas hemp. But in time cheaper alternatives to hemp fiber were developed. Machines to make processing of other fibers, like cotton, were developed. Hemp still got processed by hand. Hemp fiber had advantages but was becoming costly.

New uses for hemp, especially for the pulp of the plant, called “hurds,” were on the horizon. Industries as diverse as paper, plastics and explosives can use the cellulose rich hurds. USDA Bulletin 404, published in 1916, stated that, “without a doubt, hemp will continue to be one of the staple agricultural crops of the United States.” 1n the 1930′s Ford Motors had plans for a car built from hemp. That same car could be fueled by hemp, as the base for bio-diesel.

Then came 1937.

[originally posted May 19, 2013 on Hail Mary Jane]

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Author: DavidB

a heathen, but hopefully not an unenlightened one

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