Hemp is the common name for plants of the entire genus Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to cannabis strains cultivated for industrial use (low or no THC varieties). Industrial hemp has many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food, and fuel. It is one of the fastest growing biomass’s known, and one of the earliest domesticated plants known.
Here are 15 fascinating historical facts about the incredible industrial hemp plant.
- In 1938, hemp was called ‘Billion Dollar Crop.’ It was the first time a cash crop had a business potential to exceed a billion dollars. (Popular Mechanics, Feb. 1938.)
- All schoolbooks were made from hemp or flax paper until the 1880s. (Jack Frazier. Hemp Paper Reconsidered. 1974.)
- Quality paints and varnishes were made from hemp seed oil until 1937. 58,000 tons of hemp seeds were used in America for paint products in 1935. (Sherman Williams Paint Co. testimony before the U.S.Congress against the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.)
- It was legal to pay taxes with hemp in America from 1631 until the early 1800s. (LA Times. Aug. 12, 1981.)
- Refusing to grow hemp in America during the 17th and 18th centuries was against the law! You could be jailed in Virginia for refusing to grow hemp from 1763 to 1769 (G. M. Herdon. Hemp in Colonial Virginia).
- Oldest known records of hemp farming go back 5000 years in China, although hemp industrialization probably goes back to ancient Egypt.
- For thousands of years, 90% of all ships’ sails and rope were made from hemp. The word ‘canvas’ comes from the Middle English word “canevas” which comes from the Latin word cannabis. (Webster’s New World Dictionary.)
- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers grew hemp. (Washington and Jefferson Diaries. Jefferson smuggled hemp seeds from China to France then to America.)
- Benjamin Franklin owned one of the first paper mills in America, and it processed hemp. Also, the War of 1812 was fought over hemp. Napoleon wanted to cut off Moscow’s export to England. (Jack Herer. Emperor Wears No Clothes.)
- 80% of all textiles, fabrics, clothes, linen, drapes, bed sheets, etc., were made from hemp until the 1820s, with the introduction of the cotton gin.
- Rembrandt’s, Van Gogh’s, Gainsborough’s, as well as most early canvas paintings, were principally painted on hemp linen.
- The first Bibles, maps, charts, Betsy Ross’s flag, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were made from hemp. (U.S. Government Archives.)
- The first crop grown in many states was hemp. 1850 was a peak year for Kentucky producing 40,000 tons. Hemp was the largest cash crop until the 20th century. (State Archives.)
- In 1916, the U.S. Government predicted that by the 1940s all paper would come from hemp and that no more trees need to be cut down. Government studies report that 1 acre of hemp equals 4.1 acres of trees. Plans were in the works to implement such programs. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Archives.)
- Henry Ford’s first Model-T was built to run on hemp gasoline and the car itself was constructed from hemp! On his large estate, Ford was photographed among his hemp fields. The car, ‘grown from the soil,’ had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 times stronger than steel. (Popular Mechanics, 1941.)