Agricultural hemp history is ancient and “the first” in so many categories. It is stunning to read of its past and then reflect on its disrupted current status. It is as if a hero were slandered and left with a sullied reputation. Heroes often bounce back. For a more clear detailed timeline I refer you to the website from Australia www.hempfoods.com.au where they have a history page.
Hemp: The #1 Agricultural Crop on the planet for 3000 years
First known finding is hemp twine around the top of a vase from China dating back to 5000 BC. Other very early discoveries:
- rope – ancient Eygpt
- medicine – China, then India, then Eygpt
- first known paper and first plant cultivated as textile fiber- China 200 BC
- naval sails in Phoenicia in the 5th century
- medical journal in ancient Rome
- mask made of hemp found on a mummy in China
- the Torah refers to using the oil for lighting holy lamps, the fabric for prayer shawls and the stalks as roofs
Hemp in early European countries
King Charles The Great promoted it. Early Bibles were printed on it. European explorers used it on their ships and brought it to the new world.
It was used as building material as evidenced in the Merovingian bridges of ancient Gaul. In 6th century France they used hemp mortar to construct them.
As European culture progressed, hemp was used for textiles, medicine and canvas to paint on by the masters. The fabric has a linen texture.
American hemp cultivation encouraged, if not required
In 1619 farmers in colonial America were told they must grow it. “Sow it everywhere” said George Washington. He and Jefferson apparently grew it and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on it. The first flag was made of hemp. In 1763 it was compulsory to grow it because of its great benefits. Throughout the 1800s it was a thriving part of American and global culture.
In 1853 the first Levis were made of hemp.
Hemp and the automotive age
The inventor of the diesel engine had designed it with the idea that a bio fuel of hemp would be used to fuel it. Henry Ford had similar visions for the production of an entire car using hemp and had a prototype made.
Why was Hemp prohibited?
Why did these men not succeed in using hemp? 1937 US Drug laws prohibited cultivation initiated by Harry Anslinger. His father-in-law Andrew Mellon helped create the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Mellon, Carnegie and Rockefeller had vested interests in synthetics and petrochemical plastics and medicines…possibly influencing Anslinger to pass his damning legislation despite the lack of evidence of psychoactive qualities in agricultural hemp. After getting U.S. laws passed he went to the UN and managed to prohibit cultivation in over 100 other countries.
In summary, it is important to remember that hemp can be substituted for petroleum. Petroleum is the key ,,,,used in plastic, fuel and medicines. Forces of the day seemed to be threatened by the powerful simplicity offered by hemp.