A fascinating story of hemp bumping into oil interests revolves around the visionary Henry Ford.
In 1929, he began to research hemp and other annual crop’s potential in the automobile’s future.
Twelve years of research and development from their bio-conversion plant in Michigan, the Ford Motor Company proved that domestically grown, renewable seed crops could produce fuel, creosote, ethyl-acetate, methanol and many other uses that mirrored the types of products made from the imported hydro-carbon of the oil molecule.
Hemp polymers were made into superior plastics and Ford envisioned this strong substance as the building block of nearly all products to come.
In the mean time, Lammont DuPont’s company
was developing and patenting new synthetic products; fuel additives, sulfate and sulfite processes needed for making wood pulp paper and many other products from imported fossil fuels.
The diverse uses of cannabis carbohydrates threatened DuPont’s petrochemicals. Aggressive lobby action by DuPont began in 1935 to Treasury Department’s chief council, Herman Oliphant.
The owner of Gulf Oil, Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, loaned DuPont money to purchase General Motors and set up tax breaks for oil companies during that time.
Also stirring the pot of turmoil, William Randolph Hearst
was amassing vast timber lands to feed his newspaper business which used Du Pont’s chemicals to make their paper and print ink. Hearst papers were the first to push the vilified term of “marijuana” onto the moral consciousness of Americans.
The promise of renewable hemp’s ability to produce paper at the ratio of 1 acre of seasonal hemp vs 4 acres of 20 year old trees threatening Hearst holdings.
The emerging pharmaceutical companies also stood to loose big if the home remedy medicinal marijuana products were allowed to flourish.
The February 1937 issue of “Mechanical Engineering” heralded hemp as “the most profitable and desirable crop that can be grown”. “The New Billion Dollar Crop” was an article on hemp that “Popular Mechanics” wrote later that same year. It did not get publish until 1938; after the Marijuana Tax Act went into effect.
The first plastic automobile “grown from the soil” was proudly unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941 at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival.
It took over a decade of R&D and it was comprised of 70% hemp, soy, flax and ramie held together by a hemp resin binder. The frame was the only steel used.
From the hemp cloth seats to the plastic dash and side panels, this was a huge innovation in the flesh. It demonstrated ten times the impact strength of it’s steel counterparts yet weighed a full one third less. It ran on hemp fuel.
Unfortunately, it was too late.
The big money pressure paid off when the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in October. Placing a prohibitive tax on hemp farmers, the financial burden and immediate tax evasion prosecution was too much pressure to continue supplying the fast growing “weed” to innovative companies like Ford’s.
According to the Ford Museum archives, the “outbreak of World War II suspended all auto production, and therefore the renewable car experiment. A second unit was in production at the time the war broke out, but the project was abandoned. By the end of the war the idea of a plastic car made from crops had fallen through the cracks due to energy being directed towards war recovery efforts.”
Now that hemp is making a come-back, with modern R&D, it may once again rival the fossil fuel appetite of our industrial world!
Peace and Prosperity,