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The Death Blow of the American Hemp Industry

The Death Blow of the American Hemp Industry

The funeral of the American Hemp Industry came in the wake of the Civil War.

Poetic, isn't it?


The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865) was fought between the Union ("the North") and the Confederacy ("the South").

Abraham Lincoln led the country through the American Civil War, maintaining the Union, eliminating slavery, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the American economy.

The central cause of the war was the dispute over whether slavery would be permitted to expand into the western territories, leading to more slave states, or be prevented from doing so, which was widely believed would place slavery on a course of ultimate extinction.

Obviously, when slaves refused to work under certain conditions that they experienced before, the manpower in order to produce all those ropes and cordage out of hemp was pretty much ... non-existent.

hemp slavery civil war

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Once trade broke off with the north, suppliers in the south lost a major market for bagging and cordage.

Things were no better in the south. With no cotton to be shipped to the north or to Europe, the Confederate Congress prohibited the raising of cotton except for home use. Since no cotton was being baled, there was no need for bale rope and farmers lost their best customers.

While northern demand for hemp was unabated, businessmen had to rely exclusively on costly foreign fiber even for jobs that did not need high-quality fiber. With the loss of the cotton trade, an investigation was begun to consider the practicality of producing thread from hemp. Congress appropriated twenty thousand dollars to pay a Pennsylvanian congressman to look into the matter. His report was offered in 1865, too late to have any impact, and was ignored. Moreover, all the information he submitted was taken from contemporary encyclopaedias and from some letters written to the commissioner of agriculture.


After the Civil War, hemp production never (really) recovered.


Faced with competition in the form of iron wire cables and bands, and cheaper jute bagging, many farmers simply gave up on hemp and turned instead to other agricultural staples such as wheat.

Yet hemp did not disappear from the American landscape.

As late as 1890, thirty-three million dollars' worth of cordage was manufactured in the United States, and during World War I the hemp industry experienced a temporary revival.

But the vast hemp plantations in Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi were gone forever.

death of hemp industry

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One last boom:

World War II brought on the final burst in American hemp fiber production. The USDA’s Hemp for Victory campaign successfully convinced growers to again embrace hemp. The federal government consulted and embarked on an ambitious project that involved construction of many new hemp processing plants.

But before the project was fully realized, the war ended, along with demand for domestic hemp fiber. Many Midwestern towns (and farmers) were left high and dry with empty or partially constructed plants, and cancelled hemp contracts.

By 1958, the last significant hemp crop in the U.S. had been harvested and processed. 


In later years it would even become illegal to grow hemp, as Americans learned that the once commonplace plant was a "depraver of youth" and a "provoker of crime" called marihuana.

Hemp plant

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Here are some notable aspects that led to the Death of the American Hemp Industry throughout years of existance:


- There was an Anti-Hemp Propaganda in the 1930s

- The Cotton Industry Wanted to Replace Hemp

- Americans in the 1930s Knew Hemp was Harmless

- The Influence of Henry J Anslinger

- After 1937 You Had to Gain Government Approval to Grow Hemp

- Hemp was Called a ‘Billion Dollar Crop’ in 1938

- Early Laws and WWII


This article contains info from “Marihuana The First Twelve Thousand Years”, by Ernest L. Abel

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