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DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Hemp (Marijuana) | Historical Information



Pubdate: 1914

Source: 1913 Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture Author: Lyster H. Dewey, Botanist in Charge of Fiber-Plant Investigations, Bureau of Plant Industry Pages: 292-293, 344-346

Hemp was first grown in Missouri about 1835, and in 1840 1,600 tons were produced in that State. Four years later the output had increased to 12,500 tons, and it was thought that Missouri would excel Kentucky in the production of this fiber. With the unsatisfactory methods of cleaning the fiber on hand brakes and the difficulties of transporting the fiber to the eastern markets, hemp proved less profitable than other crops, and the industry was finally abandoned about 1890.

Hemp was first grown in Champaign, Ill., about 1875. A cordage mill was established there for making twines from the fiber, which was prepared in the form of long tow by a large machine brake. The cordage mill burned and the industry was discontinued in 1902 because there was no satisfactory market for the kind of tow produced.

In Nebraska, hemp was first grown at Fremont in 1887 by men from Champaign, Ill. A binder-twine plant was built, but owing to the low price of sisal, more suitable for binder twine, most of the hemp was sold to eastern mills to be used in commercial twines. After experimenting with machine brakes the company brought hand brakes from Kentucky and colored laborers to operate them. The laborers did not stay, and the work was discontinued in 1900. Some of the men who had been connected with the company at Fremont began growing hemp at Havelock, near Lincoln, in 1895. A machine for making long tow, improved somewhat from the one at Champaign, was built. Further improvements were made in the machine and also in the methods of handling the crop, but the industry was discontinued in 1910, owing to the lack of a satisfactory market for the kind of tow produced.

Hemp was first grown on a commercial scale in California at Gridley, in Butte County, by Mr. John Heaney, who had grown it at Champaign and who devised the machine used there for making long tow. Mr. Heaney built a machine with some improvements at Gridley, and after three disastrous inundations from the Feather River moved to Courtland, in the lower Sacramento Valley, where the reclaimed lands are protected by dikes. The work is now being continued at Rio Vista, in Solano County, under more favorable conditions and with a machine still further improved. The hemp fiber produced in California is very strong and is generally lighter in color than that produced in Kentucky.

In 1912 hemp was first cultivated on a commercial scale under irrigation at Lerdo, near Bakersfield, Cal., and a larger acreage was grown there is 1913. The seed for both crops was obtained in Kentucky.


There are no satisfactory tests for these fibers without the aid of a microscope and chemical reagents. A ready, but uncertain, test consists in untwisting the end of twine or yarn. Jute fiber thus unwound is more fuzzy and more brittle than hemp. The two fibers may be distinguished with certainty with a microscope and chemical reagents, as indicated by the differences in the table which follows:

Reactions of hemp and jute. (Matthews, J. Merritt. The Textile Fibers, p. 349, 1908.)

Test: Schweitzer's. Hemp: Clean fiber dissolved. Jute: Bluish color, more or less distinct swelling.

Test: Iodin and sulphuric acid. Hemp: Greenish blue to pure blue Jute: Yellow to brown.

Test: Anilin sulphate. Hemp: Faint yellow. Jute: Golden yellow to orange.

Test: Warming in weak solution of nitric acid and potassium chromate, then washing and warming in dilute solution of soda ash and washing again; place on microscopic slide, and when dry add drop of glycerol. Use polariscope (dark field). Hemp: Uniform blue or yellow. Jute: Prismatic colors.

At the present high prices of jute, resulting from increasing demands in foreign markets and a partial failure of the crop in India, jute could not compete successfully with hemp were it not that manufacturers are using it in established lines of goods, and, further, that they are uncertain about securing supplies of hemp.


Hemp is one of the oldest fiber-producing crops and was formerly the most important.

The cultivation of hemp is declining in the United States because of the (1) increasing difficulty in securing sufficient labor for handling the crop with present methods, (2) lack of labor-saving machinery as compared with machinery for handling other crops, (3) increasing profits in other crops, (4) competition of other fibers, especially jute, and (5) lack of knowledge of the crop outside of a limited area in Kentucky.

Hemp was cultivated for fiber in very early times in China.

The history of the distribution of hemp from Asia to other continents indicates its relationships and the development of the best fiber-producing types.

Hemp is cultivated in warm countries for the production of a narcotic drug, but for fiber only in moderately cool and humid temperate regions.

Very few well-marked varieties of hemp of fiber-producing types have been developed.

The climate and soils over large areas in the valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries and in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in California are suited for hemp.

Hemp improves the physical condition of the soil, destroys weeds, and when retted on the ground, as is the common practice, does not exhaust fertility.

Hemp is recommended for cultivation in regular crop rotations to take the place of a spring-sown grain crop.

Fertilizers are not generally used in growing hemp, but barnyard manure applied to previous crops is recommended.

Hemp is rarely injured by insects or fungous diseases.

Broom rape, a root parasite, is the most serious pest in hemp.

Practically all of the hemp seed used in the United States is produced in Kentucky.

The best seed is obtained from plants cultivated especially for seed production, but some seed is obtained from broadcast overripe fiber crops.

The land should be well plowed and harrowed, so as to be level and uniform.

The seed should be sown early in spring by any method that will distribute and cover it uniformly.

Some hemp is still cut by hand in Kentucky, but the use of machinery for harvesting the crop is increasing.

Dew retting is regarded as the most practical method in this country.

Hand brakes for preparing the fiber are still used, but they are being replaced by machines.

The price of hemp has been generally increasing during the past 30 years.

About 30 different spinning mills in the United States, besides dealers in oakum supplies, offer a market for raw hemp fiber.

The market would expand if manufacturers could be assured of larger supplies.

India jute, often retailed under the name hemp, is the most dangerous competitor of hemp.

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