Chronology of Hemp throughout history.

There is no doubt in our minds that, from the beginning of human existence until 1937, hemp was the most important crop that man used. Food, fuel, clothing, shelter — all available in a package the size of a peppercorn, which will grow anywhere man can live. The British Empire grew rapidly thanks to a strong Navy which relied on hemp. UK and American forces would not have won WWII without the hemp used for multiple military applications. When the UK and US politicians regain some sanity, the queen of crops will return from exile.

Earliest History

The Chinese have used hemp for thousands of years.

10,000 BC: In Taiwan, the earliest-known hemp relic in existence.

8000 BC: In China, the earliest known cloth fabric is woven from hemp.

5500 BC: Earliest known depiction of hemp in existence from Kyushu Island, Japan

4500 BC: China: Hemp is used for rope and fishnets.

4000 BC: China uses hemp foods.

c. 3500 BC: Hemp rope was used in the construction of the pyramids because its great strength was ideal for working with large blocks of stone.

2800 BC: China makes first rope from hemp fiber.

2800 BC: Lu Shi (500 AD) mentions an Emperor who taught people to use hemp at 2800 BC.

2700 BC: China: Hemp was used for fiber, oil, and as a medicine. Examples of each were purposefully left in tombs with bodies.

1200 BC: Hemp cloth found in tomb of Pharaoh Alchanaten at El amarona. Records of apothecary form the time of Ramses III suggest hemp’s use for an ophthalmic prescription.

c. 1100 BC: City of Carthage uses hemp to dominate Mediterranean Sea as hemp is used in ships, rope, and as medicine.

1000 BC: Hemp is cultivated in India.

650 BC: Hemp is mentioned in cuneiform tablets.

450 BC: Greek historian Herodus claims that “hemp garments are as fine as linen.” From Asia to Afghanistan to Egypt, hemp was widely cultivated for its fiber.

The ancient Egyptians used hemp in building the pyramids

c. 400 BC: Buddha was nourished with hempseed.

300 BC: A Carthaginian galley sank near Sicily was found with hemp onboard that was still identifiable after 2,300 years of salt water exposure.

200 BC: Greek Moschion wrote of hemp ropes used in the flagship Syracusi, and other ships of the fleet of Hiero II.

2nd Century BC: Roman writer Pausanaius noted hemp was grown in Elide.

100 BC: Chinese make paper (oldest surviving piece) from hemp and mulberry.

Europe (A.D.)

1st Century AD: Pliny recommends hemp from Alabanda, a city of Cairn, in Asia Minor as the best hemp.

1st Century AD: Lucius Columella writing during the time of Agustus put forward hemp cultivation methods.

70: Hemp cultivated for the first time in England. By 400, hemp was a well-established crop.

3rd Century: Sample of hemp paper with Sanskrit characters in India.

500-1000: Hemp cultivation spreads throughout Europe.

600: Germans, Franks, Vikings, etc. make paper, sails, rope, etc. from Hemp.

6th century: A hemp-reinforced bridge is built in France. The bridge actually petrified and is still strong today.

7th Century: First known mention of hemp as a medicine in work of Suskota in India.

716: Shoes are constructed from hemp.

850: Viking Ships used hemp for their sails, ropes, fishing nets, lines and caulking.

8th Century: Arabs capture Chinese craftsman and learn to make paper from hemp.

8th Century: Japan Princess Shotoku sponsored the first recorded printing in her country using hemp. Japan continued to use hemp throughout thier history. Shinto priests, and royal family wore special hempen clothes.

10th Century: A treatise on hunting by Syrian Sid Mohammed El Mangali records hemp’s use for game netting, and hemp seeds for bird lime. Hemp was used in these times in the mid-east as food, lamp oil, paper and medicine.

1000: Europe introduces hemp butter.

1000: The English word ‘Hempe’ first listed in a dictionary.

1150: Moslems use Hemp to start Europe’s first paper mill. Most paper is made from hemp for next 850 years.

Middle Ages: Knights drank hemp beer.

The Knights of the middle ages drank hemp beer

1215: Magna Charta was printed on Hemp paper.

14-15th Century: Renaissance artists committed their masterpieces to hemp canvas.

1456: Guttenberg Bible printed on hemp paper.

1492: Hemp sails and ropes make Columbus’s trip to America possible (other fibers would have decayed somewhere in mid-Atlantic).

1494: Hemp papermaking starts in England.

1535: Henry VIII passes an act stating that all landowners must sow 1/4 acre, or be fined.

1537: Hemp receives the name Cannabis Sativa, the scientific name that stands today.

1563: Queen Elizabeth I decrees that land owners with 60 acres or more must grow hemp or else face a £5 fine.

1564: King Philip of Spain follows lead of Queen Elizabeth and orders hemp to be grown throughout his Empire from modern-day Argentina to Oregon.

16th Century: Hemp has wide cultivation in Europe for its fiber and its seed, which was cooked with barley and other grains and eaten.

c. 1600: Galileo’s scientific observation notes written on hemp paper.

16th-18th Century: Hemp was a major fiber crop in Russia, Europe and North America. Ropes and sails were made of hemp because of its great strength and its resistance to rotting. Hemp’s other historical uses were of course paper (bibles, government documents, bank notes) and textiles (paper, canvas), but also paint, printing inks, varnishes, and building materials. Hemp was a major crop until the 1920’s, supplying the world with its main supply of food and fiber (80% of clothing was made from Hemp).

17th Century: Dutch Masters, such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt, painted on hemp canvas. In fact the word canvas derives from the word “cannabis”.

1807: Napoleon signs a Treaty with Russia, which cuts off all legal Russian hemp trade with Britain. Then The Czar refuses to enforce the Treaty and turns a blind eye to Britain’s illegal trade in Hemp.

1812 — 24th June: Napoleon invades Russia aiming to put an end to Britain’s main supply of Hemp. By the end of the year the Russian winter and army had destroyed most of Napoleon’s invading forces. The Royal Navy depended on the Russian hemp to stay afloat during their war with the U.S., the War of 1812.

The Americas

The Royal Navy used hemp in 1812

1545: Hemp was introduced into Chile, then in 1554 to Peru.

1606: French Botanist Louis Hebert planted the first hemp crop in North America in Port Royal, Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia).

1611: British start cultivating hemp in Virginia.

1631: Hemp used for bartering throughout American Colonies.

1619: It became illegal in Jamestown, Virginia not to grow hemp because it was such a vital resource. Massachusetts and Connecticut passed similar laws in 1631, and 1632.

17-18th Century: Hemp was legal tender in most of the Americas. It was even used to pay taxes, to encourage farmers to grow more, to ensure America’s independence.

1715, 1726 and 1730: Pro-hemp acts were signed to cut European imports, to help the struggling colonies, who spun hemp cloth, and printed bibles and maps on hemp paper, drive for self-sufficiency.

1720 – 1870: Every township in Lancaster County Pennsylvania grew hemp, flourishing just before the Revolution. There were more than 100 mills that processed hemp fiber.

1775: Hemp was first grown in Kentucky.

18th Century: Benjamin Franklin started the first Hemp paper mill. This allowed America to have its own supply of paper (not from England) for the colonial press. Thomas Paine’s patriotic literature, which helped spark the revolution, was printed on hemp.

American paper mills made hemp paper

1776: Declaration of Independence drafted on Hemp paper. The U.S. Constitution was also printed on hemp paper fourteen years later.

18th Century: Betsy Ross sews first American flag out of hemp.

1791: President Washington sets duties on Hemp to encourage domestic industry. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations.

Make the most of the hemp seed. Sow it everywhere. –George Washington

Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and prosperity of the nation. — Thomas Jefferson

1801: Canada, on behalf of the King of England, distributed hemp seed free to farmers.

19th Century: Hemp became the first crop to be subsidized in Canada.

1802: Two extensive ropewalks were built in Lexington Kentucky. There was also announced a machine that could break “eight thousand weight of hemp per day” a huge quantity for the time.

1812: War of: Sailors outfitted and propelled the U.S. frigate Constitution “Old Ironsides” with more than 60 tons of hempen rope and sail.

Early 19th Century: The advent of steam and oil powered ships reduced demand for hempen rigging.

19th Century: Center of hemp production shifted to the Midwest

1835: Hemp spreads to Missouri. Hemp grown at Californian missions.

1850: The United States Census counted 8,327 hemp plantations growing it for cloth, canvas, and other necessities.

Mark Twains works were printed on hemp paper

After 1850: Hemp lost ground to cheaper products made of cotton, jute, sisal and petroleum. Hemp was processed by hand, which was very labor intensive and costly, not lending itself towards modern commercial production.

1863: Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation under light of hemp oil lamp.

1875: Hemp is introduced to Champaign IL, Minnesota by 1880, Nebraska by 1887, California by 1912, and Wisconsin and Iowa by the early 1920s.

Late 19th Century: The American west was tamed with hemp lassos and hemp canvas covered wagons. Hemp oil was used extensively in lighting oil, paints, and varnishes.

US Postal Service used hemp covered wagons 1800’s

Late 19th & early 20th centuries: Increasing labor costs encouraged a gradual shift away from hemp to cotton, jute, and tropical fibers which were less labor intensive. Hemp was used only for cordage and specialty products like birdseed and varnish.

1892: Rudolph Diesel invented diesel engine, intended especially for vegetable and seed oils.

1915: California outlaws Cannabis.

1916: Recognizing that timber supplies are finite, USDA Bulletin 404 calls for new program of expansion of Hemp to replace uses of timber by industry.

1917: American George W. Schlichten patented a new machine for separating the fiber from the internal woody core (“hurds”), reducing labor costs by over 90% and increasing fiber yield by 600%. That, combined with new technology to fashion paper and plastics from hemp-derived cellulose, gradually breathed new life into the industry.

1919: Texas outlaws cannabis.

1920-1940: Economic power is consolidated in hands of small number of steel, oil and munitions companies, such as Dupont, which became the US’s primary munitions manufacturer. Dupont developed and patented fuel additives such as tetraethyl lead and other petroleum based products like nylon, cellophane and plastics during this time. Mexican rebels seize prime timberland from land belonging to newspaper magnate, paper and timber baron, William Randolph Hearst.

1920-1970: Oil Barons Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and Rothschild of Shell, etc., realized the possibilities of Henry Ford’s vision of cheap methanol fuel, so they kept oil prices at between one dollar and four dollars a barrel (almost 42 gallons in a barrel), so that no other energy source could compete with it, until 1970, after all competition was erased, when the price of oil jumped to almost $40/barrol over the next 10 years.

Pioneers used hemp covered wagons

1931: Andrew Mellon, The Treasury Secretary, and Head of Bank of Pittsburgh, which loaned Dupont 80% of its money, appoints his niece’s husband, Harry J. Anslinger, to head newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later becoming the DEA).

1930s: Following action by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a campaign by William Randolph Hearst, propaganda is created against hemp from companies with vested interest in the new petroleum-based synthetic textiles. Even though hemp reinvented itself, thanks to new technology that eased processing and expanded its use, the timber (Hearst) and oil interests (Dupont, Anslinger, Mellon) crushed competition from plant-based cellulose by demonizing marijuana, and paralleling its use to Mexican immigrants and later Black jazz musicians. The effects of marijuana are demonized with such movies as “Marijuana: assassin of youth,” Devil’s weed,” and “Reefer Madness.” Throughout this assault hemp’s link to marijuana is exaggerated.

1937: DuPont Corporation patents processes for making plastics from oil and coal. The Marijuana Tax Act is passed, a prohibitive tax on hemp in the USA, effectively destroying the industry. Anslinger testifies to congress that ‘Marijuana’ is the most violence causing drug known to man. The objections by the American Medical Association (The AMA only realized that ‘Marijuana’ was in fact Cannabis or Hemp two days before the start of hearing) and the National Oil Seed Institute are rejected.

1937 – late 60s: US government understood and acknowledged that Industrial Hemp and marijuana were not the same plant.

1938: Popular Mechanics magazine, nearly at the same time as the Marijuana tax act goes into effect, touts hemp as first “billion dollar crop” and lists over 25,000 uses.

In 1938: Canada prohibits marijuana, and thus hemp production, under the Opium and Narcotics Control Act.

1940: World production of hemp peaked at about 832,000 tons of fiber.

1941: Popular Mechanics Magazine reveals details of Henry Ford’s plastic car made using hemp and fueled from hemp. Henry Ford continued to illegally grow hemp for some years after the Federal ban, hoping to become independent of the petroleum industry.

1941-1945: Hemp for Victory

During World War II, Japan cut off our supplies of vital hemp and coarse fibers. The hemp was needed for making, among other things, rope, webbing, and canvas, to be used on navy ships. So a program was started to grow hemp for military use under the banner of “Hemp For Victory”. After the war, licenses were subsequently revoked; concurrent with the last hemp crops being grown in the U.K.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture released an educational film called “Hemp for Victory”, which showed farmers how to grow and harvest industrial hemp. Hemp harvesting machinery was made available at low or no cost. From 1942 to 1945, farmers who agreed to grow hemp were waived from serving in the military, along with their sons; that’s how vitally important hemp was to America during World War II. The fields of hemp were termed victory gardens, as were the backyard vegetable gardens also urged by the government.

1942: Patriotic farmers plant 36,000 acres of seed hemp, an increase of several thousand percent from the previous year.

The United States Government encouraged farmers to grow hemp to help win the war.

1943: Both the US and German governments urge their patriotic farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. The US shows farmers a short film – ‘Hemp for Victory’ which the government later pretends never existed. The United States government has published numerous reports and other documents on hemp dating back to the beginnings of our country.

1945: The war ends and so does “Hemp for Victory”. Feral hemp, “ditch weed”, still lines the back roads, waterways, and irrigation ditches of most Midwestern states, 60 years descended from “Hemp for Victory!”

1961: UN treaty allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp.

1968: The last legal hemp crop is grown in Minnesota

1970: The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 recognizes industrial hemp as marijuana, despite the fact that a specific exemption for hemp was included in the CSA under the definition of marijuana. “Marijuana Transfer Tax” declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

1971: In Canada, cannabis, thus industrial hemp, became caught up in the politics of the Opiate laws and became classed as a restricted plant under the misuse of drugs act.

1970s: ‘Spinning Jenny’ is invented and cotton prices fall dramatically, making hemp’s demise in the Americas complete.

Early 1990s: Global hemp production sank to its lowest level.

Hemp’s Revival

1991: Hempcore become the first British company to obtain a license to grow hemp.

Since 1992: France, the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany have passed legislation allowing for the commercial cultivation of low-THC hemp. In fact, the E.U. has recently been promoting hemp cultivation by providing subsidies of approximately $1400 per hectare to grow hemp. The hemp farms profit from the sale of hemp seeds, hemp CBD oil, hemp flowers, and biomass.

The first printed bibles were on hemp paper

1992: 124,000 tonnes of hemp fiber are produced by mainly India, China, Russia, Korea and Romania, countries where the cultivation of hemp has never been prohibited.

1994: One license granted to a Canadian company, Hempline Inc., to grow low-THC hemp under the strict supervision of the authorities, for research purposes only. President Clinton included hemp as a strategic food source in an executive order.

1995: In England, The Cornish Hemp Company Ltd was set up to produce hemp and set up the infrastructure to realize the current potential for the industry.

1996: The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farming organization in the United States with 4.6 million members, passed a resolution unanimously to research hemp and grow test plots.

1998: March: Canada passes proposed regulations, and as result hemp can be grown commercially in Canada for the first time in sixty years.

1998: The Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota legalized hemp.

1998: While running for governor, Jesse Ventura announces his support for industrial hemp. Within weeks Venturaís numbers jump from 7% to 38%.

1999: 14 States introduced legislation that endorsed the commercialization of industrial hemp with varying success. Hawaii gets a permit from DEA to plant an industrial hemp test field.

Resources for Hemp Chronology

  1. Abel, Ernest. Marijuana, The First 12,000 Years (Plenum Press, New York 1980)
  2. Conrad, Chris: Hemp: Lifeline to the Future (©1993 Chris Conrad, Los Angeles)
  3. Herer, Jack: The Emperor Wears No Clothes, (©1985 HEMP Publishing, Van Nuys CA)
  4. Michaux, Andre, Travels to the West of the Alleghenies, 1805
  5. Moore, Brent. A study of the past, the present and future of the hemp industry in Kentucky, 1905
  6. Robinson, Bob, “Dr Hemp”, an experimenter at U. of MN 1960-1968
  7. Roulac, John: Hemp Horizons
  8. Schoenrock Ruth, Hemp in Minnesota During the Wartime Emergency,1966
  9. Stratford, Peter. Psychedelics Encyclopaedia (ISBN 0-9114171-51-8)
  10. Yearbook of the Dept of Agriculture, 1913
  11. US Dept of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin #153, 1909
Author: hempfrontiers