Hemp History

By: Sabine's Hemp  09-12-2011
Keywords: Hemp

A short story: Hemp history

Production of hemp originated in Central Asia thousands of years ago. The oldest piece of hemp-cloth found dates back 10.000 years. And the oldest piece of hemp-paper, discovered in China dates back 4000 years. Viking Ships which date back to 850AD used hemp for their sails, ropes, fishing nets, lines and caulking. Hemp was established in Britain around 400 AD.

From the 16th century, hemp and flax were the major fiber crops in Russia , Europe and North America , Hemp’s main uses being for ropes, sails, textiles and paper.

Hemp was already growing in North America when the first European colonist arrived and European Hemp was brought over in 1606, with the first crop being planted in Nova Scotia . Hemp cultivation in Virginia began in 1611. The Pilgrims introduced cultivation to New England as early as 1632, they learned about the cultivation of hemp from the Native Americans people.

Henry VIII required the cultivation of one quarter acre of hemp for every sixty acres of land under tillage. Mandatory cultivation of hemp continued throughout the New World , the General Court in 1637 at Hartford Connecticut , and the Massachusetts courts in 1639 ordered all families to plant one teaspoon of hemp seed. Several colonies passed legal tender laws; hemp was so valued it was used to pay taxes. Until 1776 many colonies passed laws to encourage farmers to produce hemp, some fining those who did not comply. Lobbyist were hired to educate the public about the importance of hemp. They wanted to establish hemp as America ’s trademark product. George Washington spoke in his farm diary about the quality of seeds, the importance’s of cultivating seeds at the proper time, taking care to pull the male plants from the females etc. In 1790’s Washington began cultivating “Indian hemp” which he said produced the best quality of plant, and noted its superior quality to common hemp mostly grown during that time.

Jefferson , was also a promoter of hemp, and during his tenure as Governor of Virginia he kept reserves of hemp, and in 1781 used hemp as currency when money from the government was in short supply.

For many  years hemp was also considered legal tender and used to pay tax-money. As early as 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of the province of Upper Canada , on behalf of the King of England, distributed hemp seed free to Canadian farmers. Hemp became the first crop to be subsidized when the government offered to pay premiums and bounties to the "deserving cultivators and exporters of hemp in the Province." At its peak, several thousand acres of hemp were grown in Western Ontario alone.  

The belief that hemp was one of the most important crops continued throughout the 19th century. As production increased, more states like Illinois , California , and Nebraska began to grow hemp, with more domestic hemp available, creative ideas for hemp use increased. In 1841, Congress ordered the Navy to buy domestic hemp, and in 1843 they appropriated fifty thousand dollars to purchase American hemp.

By the early 20th century, industrialization lead to many inventions, of machines One of the most important inventions to the hemp industry was the Decorticator machine. It was hailed as the invention to revolutionize the hemp industry. In an article from Popular Mechanics magazine dated February 1938 spoke of hemp as a cash crop soon to be worth a billion dollars. Unfortunately its praises came one year to late, the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act HR 6385 was enacted, requiring a $100 transfer tax on the sale of “marihuana”. Those thought to gain by this tax act the most were Hearst who owned large timber holdings which feed the paper industry, DuPont who dominated the petrochemical market, which manufactured plastics, paints, and other products of fossil fuels and the Secretary of the Treasury and owner of Gulf oil Andrew Mellon who pushed legislation through congress giving tax breaks to oil companies. Shortly after Canada outlawed Hemp too.

So even though the world production of hemp peaked in 1940 at about 832 000 tons of fiber, and both, Canadian and American hemp production restrictions were temporarily lifted from 1943 to 1945 in support of the war effort, this industry was dead to North America for more then half a century.

Since 1992, many European countries including France , the Netherlands , England , Switzerland , Spain , and Germany have passed legislation allowing for the commercial cultivation of hemp. That year, world production of hemp fiber was 124,000 tons with India , China , Russia , Korea and Romania as the major producers. In these countries, the cultivation of hemp has never been prohibited.
Canada and some states in the U.S.A. have legalized hemp cultivation again, but most under severe restrictions. The North American Hemp industry per se relies right now mainly on imports from China and Europe , but with the effort growing it is possible to establish once again a flourishing hemp Industry on this continent.

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The information in this article was current at 06 Dec 2011

Keywords: Hemp

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