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WWII Hemp Fir Victory!
“It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.”
– Carl Sagan, an American scientist
The first traces of hemp were found way back in 8000 BCE in Asian regions that are now modern day China and Taiwan. The oldest remnants discovered to date are hemp cords used in pottery and records that show that hemp seed and oil were used as food in China. When you consider that human agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, you can assume that hemp was one of the first agricultural crops.
Throughout history, hemp continued to spread across civilizations. Evidence of hemp material have been found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and later in South America. Several religious documents ranging from Hinduism to ancient Persian religions also mention hemp as a “Sacred Grass” or “King of Seeds”. Throughout generations, hemp was a key ingredient in everyday life, as it was used to daily essentials such as clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper.
North America was first introduced to hemp in 1606. Ever since, American farmers grew hemp that was used across multiple different products, such as paper, lamp fuels, and ropes. In the 1700s, farmers were even legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop. Many of our founding fathers grew hemp and advocated its uses and benefits. Notably, George Washington grew hemp on his estate.
The United States went from a staunch supporter of hemp to completely banning it in the 1970s
Although hemp was a big part of early US history, attitude towards the crop started to change in the early 1900s. When the US government increased its resolve to fight against drugs such as marijuana, hemp somehow got grouped with its cannabis cousin. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 started the major decline of the hemp industry, as all hemp sales started to get heavily taxed on. There has been some controversy over this bill, as some have argued that this policy was aimed to reduce the size of the hemp industry in order to help the emerging plastic and nylon industries gain market share.
The United States reversed its stance in 1942 when they realized they needed hemp for the war effort. The Department of Agriculture started to heavily promote hemp and started publishing various benefits that hemp offered (i.e. findings that hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees). The peak of the hemp promotion was when the US government released a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory, which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war. This led to over 400,000 acres of hemp being planted during 1942-1945
Shortly after this program, the U.S. government went back to its original stance on hemp again and the industry continued to decline. Other alternative sources, such as plastic and nylon, were encourages across multiple industries. This led to fewer farmers cultivating hemp and many hemp processors declaring bankruptcy. The last commercial hemp farm in the U.S. was planted in Wisconsin in 1957. Hemp farming was eventually officially banned altogether in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in which hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping this crop with drugs like heroin and LSD.
The peak of U.S. hemp farming was during World War II when the US government promoted hemp through its “Hemp for Victory” program, which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war.
Read about how the government suppressed the USDA film “Hemp For Victory” until its rediscovery by hemp advocates.