American Hemp Manufacturing PART III: Hemp Throughout History

There are traces of both cannabis and hemp throughout history. From the sprawling estates of upper-class Romans to Scanadanavian Vikings conquering new worlds.

Historians believe the first clothes people ever wore were made of hemp. 10,000-year-old pottery found in the meandering caves of Mesopotamia, better known today as the land covered by Iran and Iraq, were bound together with hemp rope.

Asian cultures have the longest continuous use of cannabis and hemp throughout history.

This isn’t surprising given many modern strains of cannabis originate from the Eurasian continent. Somewhere around 150 B.C. China earned the honor of becoming the birthplace of the first paper the world had ever seen.

It was made entirely of hemp.

But Europeans might as well have been on a different planet given ancient means of transportation. That’s why we don’t see traces of hemp throughtout the history of Europe until around 1200 B.C.

But the Romans weren’t known for their use of cannabis as a medicine or food source. One of the main uses for hemp at the time was to craft canvas sails for their ships.

The word canvas comes from the French word canevas, meaning “made from cannabis”.

Hemp was stronger than cotton sails and could withstand the corrosive sea salts of the ocean.

In 1535, King Henry VIII made it mandatory for all land-owning citizens to grow no less than a quarter-acre of hemp. Up until the 1920s, almost all clothing in the U.K. was made from hemp.

Ancient Egypt

Pharaoh Ramesses II ruled over Egypt from 1279 – 1213 B.C. After Ramesses spearheaded a peace treaty with the Hittites, a culture living out of the land we know today as Turkey, he earned a new nickname.

His new name translates to “keeper of peace and harmony”. Like all other great pharaohs, Ramesses was buried with his most valuable possessions.

When his grave was uncovered in 1881, archaeologists couldn’t believe what they found…

Cannabis pollen was found right on the mummy itself! 

Many also believe the symbol often appearing above the Egyptian goddess of wisdom, Seshat, is a cannabis leaf.

Religious ceremonies celebrating deities, like Seshat, often involved smoking cannabis. Just like taking a sip of wine in church on Sunday, cannabis was a way for ancient Egyptians to feel closer to their gods.

Hemp throughout history may have even helped build the pyramids. To break down large boulders into more manageable-sized rocks. Workers would pound dry cannabis stalks into the cracks of large rocks.

They would then pour water over the hemp, causing the fibers to expand. The pressure of the hydrated fiber would break the rock off at the crack like a mellow set of dynamite.

Scythians

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe most often attributed to South Siberia. Their travels brought them far and wide across the continent, and at one point a sizable number of Scythians lived in what is now modern-day Crimea.

Greek philosopher Herodotus once encountered the Scythians and learned of the unique way they honored their dead.

The body would be burned on top of a large bonfire, where attendees would toss cannabis onto the flames. They’d inhale the huge clouds of smoke billowing from the flames, shouting and laughing in celebration of the deceased’s life.

India

The Atharvaveda is a collection of rituals and practices for enhancing your life. The nomadic Aryan tribe brought the Atharvaveda when occupying what is now present-day India.

Within the pages of the Atharvaveda, cannabis is listed as a sacred grass with many uses. It includes a recipe for bhang, a milky tea made from cannabis flowers.

Cannabis is also considered holy by practitioners of Hindu. Hindu god Vishnu is said to live within the leaves of the cannabis plant.

North America

Early American settlers from Europe remarked in their notes about the prevalence of wild hemp that grew just as well as any farm in the old world.

President George Washinton grew acres upon acres of the stuff. Just North of the American colonies the French regime in Canada made hemp the first crop to subsidized in the new world.

French Canadians hoped hemp would be their savior when it came to ending their dependence on Britain.

They believed if they could grow enough hemp to reverse the tides with Britain they could pull out the rug of power beneath the queen.

So what broke off North America’s love affair with hemp?

Other than politics, the cotton gin was a huge thorn in the side of the hemp industry. Hemp and cotton were both labor-intensive crops when it came to harvesting.

But the cotton gin made cotton lightyears faster and much cheaper to produce. For entrepreneurs of the time, this made the choice easy. Cotton was in and hemp was out.

American inventor George Schlichten introduced a machine in 1917 that could process hemp as fast as the cotton gin did for cotton.

But old George was no good at finding investors for his groundbreaking invention. He died just a few years after getting his patent approved.

Propaganda

Not long after George’s passing the industry robber barons of the time saw hemp as one of the biggest threats to their industries.

In an unexpected turn of events, oil barons were now the key suppliers of textiles with most synthetic fibers being made of petroleum byproduct.

Lumber and Media magnates that depended on wood-based paper began investing in anti-hemp propaganda.

A 1937 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine announced hemp as a potential source for the next economic boom. People were excited about hemp just as they’re excited now.

But unlike hemp entrepreneurs of the past, we’re on the exiting side of legal prohibition. Back then they were just walking into it.

What started out as an attempt to tax the hemp industry out of business by synthetic fiber lobbyists hired by big oil companies ended up in an outright ban on all hemp production in the U.S.

With the U.S. being front and center on the world stage Canada was quick to follow suit. Within a year Canada’s hemp laws mirrored what was happening in the U.S.