The Many Uses and History of Hemp in America

Here’s something that maybe not everyone knows. Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years for the use of its fibers, which are important for the manufacture of textiles and food. Since 1950, it has been prohibited in the United States of America, for the reason that it is derived from the cannabis plant, which is also the source of the psycho-active narcotic, marijuana.

benjamin franklinThe fiber was well known and used by our Founding Fathers. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp on their plantations, in fact Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

In the “Child’s Book of Nature”, Worthington Hooker, M.D. wrote in New York in 1888, explains how Benjamin Franklin, who owned a mill that made hemp paper, discovered electricity with the help of the plant”

“Franklin sent his silk kite up in a thunderstorm with a pointed iron wire attached to the kite and the string. The silk was a non-conductor, while the string conducted the electricity to the ground. “But he managed to prevent the electricity from coming to his hand. He stopped it on the way. He did this by tying a silk ribbon to the hemp string, and holding the kite by this ribbon, as you see in the picture. The electricity could not go through this silk, and so it stayed in the hemp string…..

…..Dr. Franklin now fastened a key to the end of the hemp string. A great deal of the electricity now passed to the key, because the metal of which the key was made was so good, when Franklin put his knuckle near the key, he received a shock from it.”

Hemp was a required crop in the American colonies because of its importance for sails. In fact the word “canvas” comes from “cannabis.”

Hemp and marijuana look the same to the untrained eye, but are actually two very different plants. Many of the varieties of hemp that were grown in North America have been lost over the years, due to the eradication of the plant by federal agents, who think that they are fighting the war on drugs.

Henry Ford experimented with hemp in the construction of building car bodies, when he dreamt of fueling and building his cars from farm products. Currently BMW is experimenting with hemp materials in automobiles, in order to make cars more recyclable. Rudolph Diesel designed his car to run on hemp oil and a Kimberly Clark (on the Fortune 500) has a mill in France where she makes hemp paper, preferred for bibles, because it lasts longer and does not yellow.

Hemp oil is used to grease machines, and it is used in most paints, resins, shellacs and varnishes. The list of products made from it is about 25,000. This includes construction products such as medium density fiber boards, oriented strand boards, beams, studs and posts.

Hemp has extremely long fibers, so products made by it will be much stronger and lighter than those made by wood.

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