Mechanics Magazine, VOL. 69 February, 1938 NO. 2
69 February, 1938 NO. 2
American farmers are promised a new cash
crop with an annual value of several hundred million dollars, all because a machine
has been invented that solves a problem more than 6,000 years old.
is hemp, a crop that will not compete with other American products. Instead, it
will displace imports of raw material and manufactured products produced by underpaid
coolie and peasant labor and it will provide thousands of jobs for American workers
throughout the land.
machine that makes this possible is designed for removing the fiber-bearing cortex
from the rest of the stalk, making hemp fiber available for use without prohibitive
amounts of human labor.
is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability.
It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine
laces, and the woody "hurds" remaining after the fiber has been removed contain
more than 77 percent cellulose, which can be used to produce more than 25,000
products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.
now in service in Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, and other states are producing fiber
at a manufacturing cost of half a cent per pound, and are finding a profitable
market for the rest of the stalk. Machine operators are making a good profit in
competition with coolie-produced foreign fiber, while paying farmers $15 a ton
for hemp as it comes from the field.
the farmer's point of view, hemp is an easy crop to grow and will yield from three
to six tons per acre on any land that will grow corn, wheat, or oats. It can be
grown in any state of the Union. It has a short growing season, so that it can
be planted after other crops are in. The long roots penetrate and break the soil
to leave it in perfect condition for next year's crop. The dense shock of leaves,
eight to twelve feet above the ground, chokes out weeds. Two successive crops
are enough to reclaim land that has been abandoned because of Canadian thistles
or quack grass.
old methods, hemp was cut and allowed to lie in the fields for weeks until it
"retted" enough so that the fibers could be pulled off by hand. Retting is simply
rotting as a result of dew, rain, and bacterial action. Machines were developed
to separate the fibers mechanically after retting was complete, but the cost was
high, the loss of fiber great, and the quality of fiber comparatively low.
the new machine -- known as a decorticator -- hemp is cut with a slightly modified
grain binder. It is delivered to the machine where an automatic chain conveyor
feeds it to the breaking arms at a rate of two or three tons per hour. The hurds
are broken into fine pieces that drop into the hopper, from where they are delivered
by blower to a baler, or to a truck or freight car for loose shipment. The fiber
comes from the other end of the machine, ready for baling.
this point on, almost anything can happen. The raw fiber can be used to produce
strong twine or rope, woven into burlap, used for carpet warp or linoleum backing,
or it may be bleached and refined, with resinous by-products of high commercial
value. It can, in fact, be used to replace foreign fibers which now flood our
of tons of hemp hurds are used every year by one large powder company for the
manufacture of dynamite and TNT. A large paper company, which has been paying
more than a million dollars a year in duties on foreign-made cigarette papers,
now is manufacturing these papers from American hemp grown in Minnesota. A new
factory in Illinois is producing bond paper from hemp. The natural materials in
hemp make is an economical source of pulp for any grade of paper manufactured,
and the high percentage of alpha cellulose promises an unlimited supply of raw
material for the thousands of cellulose products our chemists have developed.
is generally believed that all linen is produced from flax. Actually, the majority
comes from hemp -- authorities estimate that more than half of our imported linen
fabrics are manufactured from hemp fiber. Another misconception is that burlap
is made from hemp. Actually, its source is usually jute, and practically all of
the burlap we use is woven from laborers in India who receive only four cents
a day. Binder twine is usually made from sisal, which comes from the Yucatan and
of these products, now imported, can be produced from home-grown hemp. Fish nets,
bow strings, canvas, strong rope, overalls, damask tablecloths, fine linen garments,
towels, bed linen, and thousands of other everyday items can be grown on American
farms. Our imports of foriegn fabrics and fibers average about $200 million per
year; in raw fibers alone we imported over $50 million in the first six months
of 1937. All of this income can be made available for Americans.
paper industry offers even greater possibilities. As an industry it amounts to
over $1 billion a year, and of that, 80 percent is imported. But hemp will produce
every grade of paper and government figures estimate that 10,000 acres devoted
to hemp will produce as much paper as 40,000 acres of average pulp land.
obstacle in the onward march of hemp is the reluctance of farmers to try new crops.
The problem is complicated by the need for proper equipment a reasonable distance
from the farm. The machine cannot be operated profitably unless there is enough
acreage within driving range and farmers cannot find a profitable market unless
there is machinery to handle the crop.
obstacle is that the blossom of the female hemp plant contains marijuana, a narcotic,
and it is impossible to grow hemp without producing the blossom. Federal regulations
now being drawn up require registration of hemp growers, and tentative proposals
for preventing narcotic production are rather stringent.
the connection of hemp as a crop and marijuana seems to be exaggerated. The drug
is usually produced from wild hemp or locoweed, which can be found on vacant lots
and along railroad tracks in every state. If federal regulations can be drawn
to protect the public without preventing the legitimate culture of hemp, this
vast new crop can add immeasurably to American agriculture and industry.