The History of Hemp in the US During the 1800s and 1900s


What Are the Origins of Hemp?

The USA’s History of Hemp in the 1800s

America and Hemp During the 1900s

Future Growth for Hemp

Hemp has existed for thousands of years. How is it that a diverse plant with a plethora of benefits is so misunderstood in the world today? The history of hemp tells the undisclosed story of this herb’s origins.

Although it forms part of the cannabis family, hemp is primarily cultivated and consumed for its fibers and medicinal properties. The benefits weren’t always this transparent. The crop went from being notably useful to being propagated as a harmful drug.

Despite its unfortunate reputation, growers never gave up cultivating hemp or weed during the prohibition. Now that it’s legal in certain regions, you have the luxury of choosing between varieties like feminized, auto-flowering, or fast version seeds.

Let’s look at how America’s hemp history paved the way for the plant’s place in today’s society.

What Are the Origins of Hemp?

Hemp is a derivative of the Cannabis sativa L. family and is useful for its durable fibers and cannabinoids. For decades people have been using it for clothing, materials for building homes, environmental protection, and health supplements.

The exact origins of hemp are uncertain because humans transported it across the world as they migrated. However, its history dates back as far as 8,000 BC, when people first discovered traces of it in Asia. 

Others soon found it in Europe, South America, and Africa. Human civilization mainly utilized its seeds and oil for food and pottery products.

From 2,000 to 800 BC, hemp was considered a gift (sacred grass) in Hindu religions. As the years progressed from 600 to 200 BC, the plant spread its roots to Northern Europe, Southern Russia, and Greece. People also found ropes made from the plant and its seeds in Germany.

China attempted to make paper from the herb in 100 BC. The stigma attached to the plant wasn’t always there. In 1533, King Henry VII encouraged farmers to cultivate hemp, with fines for those who didn’t.

During the 1600s and 1700s, early settlers introduced new strains to the US. It was also when they discovered Native Americans cultivating the crops. It’s believed that from 1605, tribes in Cape Cod and Plymouth Bay began harvesting hemp for fabrics.

Is hemp native to North America? The quick answer is no since it only arrived in Jamestown in the 1600s through English settlers. In 1606, the North of the US identified the crop as the primary ingredient in garments, shoes, ropes, paper, and food.

The USA’s History of Hemp in the 1800s

In the early years of American History, the Founding Fathers, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, led the hemp way. The focus was entirely on the cultivation and production of industrial crops for the US market.

Before the 19th century, people viewed American hemp as of lesser quality than that grown in other countries, like Russia.

The history of hemp in the US during the 1800s laid the groundwork for the beginning of a revolution. The height of production was in the middle of the 19th century.

  • 1840: Abraham Lincoln used hemp seed oil for his household lamps.
  • 1841: To secure profitable domestic markets, Congress passed a resolution encouraging the Navy to purchase hemp from American farmers. It resulted in the development of innovative technologies for crop processing and manufacturing.
  • 1850s: The United States census registers over 8,000 hemp plantations, each producing approximately 2,000 hectares. During this time, the popularity of hemp-produced fabrics declined as cotton made its way into the market. Despite the decline, American states like Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky become leaders in hemp production.

America and Hemp During the 1900s

The history of hemp in America in the 20th century significantly impacts its place in society today. A plant once appreciated and respected for its many valuable qualities now bears legal consequences in certain countries.

During the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants were regularly searched and deported for the possession of hemp. It’s believed that the word “marijuana” replaced cannabis during this time as a derogatory term.

When other fiber crops like jute, sisal, and cotton hit the US markets in the early to mid-1900s, hemp production decreased.

Here’s a history of hemp during the 1900s:

  • 1929: The first United States Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner, Harry Aslinger, changed his views on cannabis. He begins promoting it as a devil drug. To support his beliefs, he requested 30 scientists to prove that marijuana is dangerous, of which 29 couldn’t.
  • 1937: Harry Aslinger, William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon, and the Du Pont family draft the Marihuana Tax Act.
  • 1942–1945: The release of Hemp for Victory by the US government to encourage farmers to cultivate hemp to assist the war. During this period, the US Department of Agriculture began promoting hemp by publishing articles in favor of its benefits. This movement led to the development of over 40,000 acres of hemp plantations.
  • 1957: Wisconsin saw the last US commercial hemp fields cultivated.
  • 1970: Marijuana is grouped with other narcotics like heroin and LSD, classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug. Although hemp is different from this THC-containing family member, extracts of it form part of this definition. CBD, a cannabinoid derived from hemp plants, falls into the scheduled classification.
  • 1985: The US government approves synthetic cannabis for pharmaceutical industries.
  • 1990s: The United States began importing food-grade hemp seeds and oils for personal use. Soon after, the US Department of Health and Human Services filed a patent on cannabinoids.

Future Growth for Hemp

The history of hemp in the United States shows us that, although it’s deemed beneficial in many ways, it’s still a misunderstood plant. The court case between the Hemp Industries Association and the DEA in the early 2000s opened doors for advocates.

The case outcome protected the sale of hemp-infused foods and personal care products, and farmers got cultivation licenses.

The 2014 Farm Bill, signed by former US President Barack Obama, legally separated hemp from marijuana. This classification is based on the presence of less than 0.3% THC. It also legalizes the growing of industrial hemp.

If more people familiarize themselves with hemp history facts, perhaps the disgruntled outlook toward the plant will fade.

Thanks to those who saw hemp for what it truly is, people can now cultivate from seed to reap the plant’s multiple rewards.

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