Whilst hemp also comes from the cannabis sativa plant, it is not psychoactive (meaning it won’t get you high), and was literally touted as ‘the next billion dollar crop,’ providing us with one of the strongest, easily produced, and re-usable fibrous materials known to man.
Instead, we chose to destroy forests and decimate land with other crops, but the cannabis revolution is finally seeing hemp re-introduced to the western world, and its bi-products not only crop up throughout recorded history, they can be continuously found at pivotal turning points of humankind. So without further ado, here are 5 amazing uses of hemp throughout history.
Until the 20th century, 80% of the world’s fabric and textile needs came from hemp fibres. In fact, it was the world’s largest agricultural crop for thousands of years, with the Columbia History of the World stating that “the earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, which began to be worked in the eighth millennium (8000-7000 BC).”
2. The declaration of independence
This rumour has been floating around for a while now, and whilst the final copy of the declaration was actually transcribed on parchment (animal skin treated with lime) the two original drafts were penned on hemp paper. In fact, just about everything was written on hemp paper at the time, with up to 90% of all paper in the world having come from hemp fibres.
Other famous writings on hemp paper include The King James Bible (17th century), the works of Mark Twain, even Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
3. USS Constitution
The oldest U.S. naval ship, colloquially known as ‘old ironsides’ used more than 120,000 pounds of hemp fibre for rigging, lines, ropes and caulking. Even more hemp fibre was used in making canvas for the sails.
Hemp arrived in the U.S. via British ship the Mayflower, on which it was used for a similar purpose, before British colonies in the U.S. were required, by law, to grow hemp. Hemp was an ideal textile for maritime use as it has a natural resistance to decay and the plant is incredibly adaptable to differing climates.
4. Legal tender
On the back of the British monarchy’s requirement for hemp production, the plant was widely grown in the days leading to the American Revolution. As law required it, many farmers were able to use hemp as currency to pay their taxes, and this continued for some 200 years, particularly in the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.
5. Car manufacture
Fast-forward to the 1940’s and Henry Ford almost became a saviour to farmers on the back of the great depression, as one of the plastics developed by his chemists contained hemp, among other things. Whilst some claims say the material was up to 70% hemp, this is unlikely as it is a composite of similar fibres and resins.
It did, however, prove to be 300 pounds lighter than its steel counterparts, and up to 10 times stronger, which Mr. Ford proved by hitting it with an axe- sounds pretty convincing to me! Modern car manufacture has seen a revitalisation of the hemp industry, with the world’s most eco-friendly car, the Kestrel, also composed of a hemp-fibre composite and touted as being super lightweight with the strength of maritime fibreglass.
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