George Washington and Thomas Jefferson knew the amazing value of this plant and they both grew hemp. Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that produced hemp paper and Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States (1801–1809), drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper in 1776.
Early Hemp Laws
Because of its importance for sails and rope for ships, hemp was a mandatory crop in the American colonies. America’s first hemp laws were passed in 1619 and they were very clearly stated; if you were a farmer and you did not grow hemp then you were arrested. The sentence was either jail time or being expelled out of the U.S. as a non-patriot. This hemp law was originally declared by the Colonist Government of Great Britain in 1773 and again in 1776 (the year the Declaration of Independence was signed). At that time, the hemp plant was one of the most widely used plants in the world.
From the 1500’s to 1700’s hemp and flax were the major fiber crops in Russia and Europe and in 1606 French botanist Louis Hevert planted the first recorded hemp crop in North America in Port Royal, Acadia (present day Nova Scotia), where it became a major crop.
Hemp seeds started to spread across America in the 1600’s and by 1850 hemp was America’s third largest crop. Throughout the world, hemp was the largest single industry until the mid-1800’s. Interestingly, hemp was legal tender throughout most of America from 1631 until the early 1800s.
The ultimate demise of hemp in the U.S. was its botanical cousin, marijuana and the threat hemp imposed against two corporations. In the early 1900’s the hemp plant was considered a major threat to the logging and synthetic fiber industries. The Harrison Drug Act of 1937, declared the cultivation of hemp in the U.S. illegal unless grown under permit. Joseph DuPont, whose company was a leader in the synthetic fiber industry and William Randolph Hearst, whose newspaper publishing company was the largest in America at that time (and had a major interest in the pulp and paper industry) were behind the push to make hemp and marijuana illegal.
Although the United States has now lifted the ban, growing under permit is technically allowed, but no permits have been issued for a very long time nor are they being issued at present. American farmers and producers of hemp products are now educating people concerning the extensive potential of hemp. The reintroduction of hemp farming has aided many U.S. farmers in saving their farms.
It has been beneficial to the American economy to legalize hemp cultivation as the U.S. until recently, have been importing all their hemp products. In 1999 the gross retail sales of hemp products worldwide reached $150 million. Domestic cultivation of hemp would not only greatly boost the economy and benefit the environment; it would also greatly reduce the need for petroleum and trees.
– Henry Ford experimented with hemp to build car bodies. He wanted to build and fuel cars from farm products.
– BMW is experimenting with hemp in the production of automobiles as part of an effort to make cars more recyclable.
– Much of the bird seed sold in the U.S. has hemp seed, the hulls of which contain about 25% protein.
– Hemp oil once greased machines. Most paints, resins, shellacs, and varnishes used to be made out of linseed (from flax) and hemp oils.
– Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on hemp oil.
– Kimberly Clark (on the Fortune 500) has a mill in France which produces hemp paper that is preferred for bibles because it lasts a very long time and does not yellow.
– Construction products such as medium-density fiber board, beams, studs, and posts can be made out of hemp. Because of hemp’s long fibers, the products will be stronger and possibly even lighter than those made from wood.
– Industrial hemp has a THC content of between 0.05 and 1%. Marijuana has a THC content of 3% to 20%.
– Hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton.
– Fabrics made with 50% hemp block the sun’s UV rays more effectively than other fabrics. This makes protecting your skin safer than many sunscreens.
– A 1938 Popular Mechanics described hemp as a “New Billion Dollar Crop.”
– Hemp can be made in to a variety of fabrics, including linen-quality.