The History of Hemp

Team Bloom 19 Nov 2020 8 MIN READ

Although hemp was only recently legally reintroduced to Americans, you might be surprised to know that hemp farming, in fact, is really not new at all. The history of the hemp plant dates back thousands of years as people of all cultures recognized its value. From textiles to medicines, the history of hemp use is even more relevant now as we look for more ways to move this hemp product revolution forward. In this blog post, we’ll look at the history of the hemp industry, how and what hemp has been used for, and finally, the history of American hemp. 

This History of Hemp: From Ancient Resource to Modern Medicine

One can argue which culture first started cultivating hemp, but the fact is the history of hemp use dates as far back as 6,000-8,000 B.C. Archaeologists have found remnants of hemp clothing in the ancient Mesopotamia area of modern-day Iraq and Iran. While the ancient cultures in the Mesopotamia region used wild hemp for textiles purposes, the Chinese probably had the most diverse history of hemp use. Historians believed that the Chinese were using wild hemp for medicinal purposes as far back as 6000 B.C. However, these were not the only cultures with a long history of using this important crop.

the history of hemp and history of  hemp use
From ancient medicine to modern textile, the history of hemp use is both lengthy and varied.

Historically speaking, hemp cultivation and production were found worldwide hundreds of years ago, if not thousands. From South America to Western and Eastern Europe and into Russia. North America itself has a long history of hemp cultivation as well. It is believed that when the first Puritans arrived on Plymouth Rock, hemp was already growing in several areas of what is now the USA as we know it today. Whether you’re looking at the history of hemp in America or the history of hemp use anywhere else in the world, the notion of hemp farming as an essential resource quickly becomes undeniable. 

History of Hemp in America

The history of hemp in America is as tragic as it is complicated. During the founding of the nation, hemp was arguably the most popular crop to grow. Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” So necessary was hemp that American farmers were legally bound to grow a certain percentage of hemp every year. This, of course, would come in handy during the revolutionary war when hemp fiber was used for the sails, lines, and rigging of American warships.

Thomas Jefferson wasn’t the only founding father to be a big supporter of hemp. George Washington, James Madison, and Ben Franklin were all outspoken about the benefits of hemp, and they all grew or had hemp operations in some fashion. 

Hemp production would continue to grow in America, and its uses become ever more diverse. Eventually, hemp or cannabis (again, hemp is just another name for a specific type of cannabis plant) became wildly popular in medicines during the mid to late 19th century. Hemp was a common ingredient in elixirs that were used to treat everything from muscle spasms to insomnia to common pain relief. The American Old West was known for its rather bizarre potions, some of which would contain cannabis oil. Unfortunately, many of these “medicines” also contained high amounts of opium/morphine, cocaine, and alcohol!

In the early 20th century, hemp still had some great moments, but, unfortunately, the tide was turning, which is where the history of hemp in America began to take a tragic turn. For all the positive history of responsible hemp use, this next chapter about hemp in America seems so odd and, in fact, it became rather sinister. 

The Dark Side of the History of Hemp in America

To better understand this next chapter of hemp use in America, it is vital to know that hemp is a form of cannabis. What makes hemp different from “marijuana” are the levels of THC, the cannabinoid that causes a “high.” At this point in history, cannabis was also being grown to reach higher THC levels throughout the Americas. 

Unfortunately, there was a campaign of fear that villainized people of color, including Mexicans and African Americans, and this campaign of fear judged cannabis use as a pathway to many evils. Hence the term “devil’s lettuce” became popular in the 1930s along with the awful film, “Reefer Madness,” which associated cannabis use with psychotic activity. 

Ironically, the term marijuana never existed before this time, as it was either called hemp or cannabis. Because of this new found fear in cannabis, especially the cannabis coming over the border from Mexico, the term “marihuana” was created with a noticeable negative connotation with Mexican vocabulary. 

the history of hemp use in america

The History of Hemp Plant is a History of Lies

During this same time, in the 1920s and 1930s, there was another shift that led to the tragedy of hemp use in America. Two names are associated with this tragedy, and they are William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont family. You can include Harry Aslinger as a key figure in the anti-hemp movement. Although he had previously been on record as stating that cannabis use was not a big deal, he was essential in promoting this dangerous and unfounded campaign. 

Let’s start with William Randolph Hearst and his newspaper empire. It’s no coincidence that Hearst was interested in banning hemp, as he was involved in the South American logging industry and American paper. In fact, his newspapers were printed on the paper made from the same trees he was responsible for deforesting. Hearst saw hemp and hemp paper as a threat to his profits, and his motivation to erase the competition became a driving force for prohibition. 

However, greed wasn’t the only driving factor behind Hearst’s plans. William Randolph Hearst was famously racist and used the hemp plant as a scapegoat to help further his bigoted agenda. He used the power of influence through his newspaper to spread lies and misinformation about cannabis and people of color. Hearst is also credited with helping create the term “marihuana,” which previously did not exist and only created a stigma that still remains today. 

Misinformation to Fact: The Harm of a Stigma

DuPont, an ally of Hearst, was busy growing his business of synthetic materials that overlapped with the many uses of the hemp crop in America at the time. These uses included common textiles, plastics, and oils. All of which were used in many American household products and all of which used hemp materials. DuPont, fearing competition with hemp, began lobbying with Hearst and many others to make it economically more difficult to use hemp in the many commodities of that time. 

Thus, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed. Ironically, this bill’s chief goal was to increase taxes on the uses of hemp product in America. However, it failed to distinguish any differences between cannabis hemp and cannabis marijuana. This failure was mainly on purpose and worked to help stamp out any competition that relied on hemp. Through misinformation and fear-mongering tactics, hemp was quickly demonized just like marijuana. At the time, hemp products were seen as superior, but thanks to prohibition propaganda, this changed in an instant. Prohibitions devastating impact created a gap in the history of hemp in America that we have only recently started to chip away at. 

Hemp For Victory

Interestingly enough, only five years later, a significant historical event, World War II, was in full swing and the need for hemp became necessary again almost overnight. The irony is that hemp production in America at that time drastically decreased due to the Marihuana Tax Act. Still, now the need for hemp production for ropes, parachutes, and other materials to aid the war effort was in high demand. The U.S. Government even created an advertising campaign called “Hemp For Victory” in order to encourage farmers to begin growing hemp again. 

It should also be noted that around this same time (1941 to be exact), Henry Ford created the first hemp car, whose exterior was made entirely from hemp plastics and was considered to be even more durable than the steel that was used to make cars during that time. Furthermore, the car ran entirely on hemp biofuels that were cleaner burning than the petroleum gas fuels of the time. Imagine that!

Of course, these farmers would need a special license to grow hemp so as not to contradict the Marihuana Tax Act. While still at a limited scale, American farmers were growing hemp again, if only for a short time. While it goes without saying that there were a lot of factors at play, these wartime efforts did result in victory.  

Unfortunately, as the war effort ended, so too did the need for hemp, and hemp was back to being highly regulated. In fact, the last commercial hemp field was planted in 1957 in Wisconsin, and by 1970 marijuana (cannabis in general) was listed as a level one controlled substance along with heroin. With hemp back on the controlled substances list, this amazing plant became primarily forgotten about and misunderstood. 

The History of Hemp Use: A Modern Rediscovery of Ancient Wisdom  

However, that is not the end of the history of hemp in America. In the year 2000, California became the first state in the Union to legalize medical marijuana. This legalization of medical marijuana opened the doors for researchers eager to rediscover the benefits of the hemp crop. While it took a while to dissolve the stigma surrounding the hemp industry, researchers’ uncovered facts that are not only undeniable but they are also genuinely profound. From the medicinal potential to eco-sustainability, the potential impact of this plant is revolutionary. Nearly two decades later, in 2020, the Farm Bill passed, which made hemp federally legal in all 50 states.  

The passing of the Farm Bill marked the official beginning of the hemp revolution. From relatively unknown and highly stigmatized to an essential part of millions of Americans’ daily routine, this history of hemp use is long, common, and undoubtedly going to continue into the future. 

Hemp uses today are not much different than the rest of the history of hemp uses

At Bloom, we believe that the future is hemp. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping you understand the history of hemp, the benefits of hemp, and how this important crop can help you live your best life. Discover the power of hemp and hemp tinctures with Bloom!