Hemp farming in Humbolt County, Iowa during the Second World War with a 1941 Farmall Model B

Hemp Farming in Humboldt County, Iowa, with a 1941 Farmall Model B Tractor   

by

Brian Wayne Wells

           This article remains under construction.  Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or   current blocks of text will be corrected.

The Hemp plant located in Humboldt County, Iowa.

 

Hemp plants have been raised in the United States almost since the founding of the republic.  During the Revolutionary War, farmers in the young republic were allowed to use hemp they had raised on their farms to pay their taxes.   The new colonial government was struggling to build its own navy for protection and its own merchant marine for trading with foreign  countries.  Hemp was required for the massive amount of ropes that were needed for each every ship and also to weave the  required George Washington raised hemp and encouraged his neighbors in Virginia to do the same.  Thomas Jefferson developed improved strains of hemp seed.

The main marketable product of the hemp plant has been the long tough strands located in the stem of the plant.  When correctly processed the strands could be formed into ropes of all sizes.

Historically, ropes were not only the used by for the rigging and ropes of the sailing ships of the merchant marine or the navies of the nations of the world, but hemp was also used for the manufacture of the sail sheets themselves.  Accordingly, within the United States the largest buyer in the rope market has, traditionally,  been the United States government which supplies the ropes to the United States Navy.

Government purchasing of ropes, of course, had a big effect on the  price of hemp.  Accordingly, in times of international tensions when the United States government begins a program of naval preparedness, the demand for hemp rises and as a result the price of hemp also rises.  So it was in the United States, during the military preparedness build up, following the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915 by a German submarine with the loss of 1,198 passengers, led directly to higher prices for rope made from hemp and directly to higher prices for hemp raised on the farms of the United States.  The shock  in the United States from the sinking of the Lusitania was spurred by the fact that 128 Americans had been among the dead resulting from the German torpedoing of the Lusitania.  To be sure, even during the period of time immediately following the sinking of the Lusitania,  public opinion in the United States was still heavily opposed to involvement in the “European War.”  However, with the announcement by the German Imperial government of a return to “unrestricted submarine warfare” on February 1, 1917, public opinion in the United States swung radially around in favor of war against Germany.  Immediately, there was a spike in the price of hemp.  The United States entered the war in Europe on April 2. 1917.

The high prices for hemp continued throughout United States involvement in the First World War.

When the war ended in November 11, 1918, hemp prices fell.

However, in the decade of the 1920s hemp became known for its other uses.    During the decade of the 1920s, use of marijuana or hemp asa a recreational drug became widespread.

There was a political reaction to this widespread use of marijuana as a recreational drug in the 1930s.  In the mid-1930s, movies were used to propagandize against the use of marijuana as a recreational drug.  One such film was a 1936 film called Reefer Madness.   The propaganda was an attempt to outlaw the cultivation of marijuana or hemp to prevent its use as a drug.  However, economic forces prevented this from happening.  Although, naval forces and the merchant marine no longer used sailing ships, ropes made from hemp were still a large part of modern shipping.

 

 

the Rope was still   e

One such time of international tensions was during the late 1930s.  At that time the United States government was not only worried about the source of hemp raising keeping up with the demand for ropes, the government also worried about whether the small number of “hemp mills” (or hemp processing plants) across the United States would be able to process enough hemp to keep up with the demand for ropes.

One such small hemp mill was located in Humboldt County, Iowa.   This small mill is located in

A map of the State of Iowa showing the location of Humboldt County in the 99 counties of the state.

 

The rising prices of hemp in the late 1930s caused a number of farmers across the nation to begin raising hemp.  They sought to make money on a new cash crop that showed the promise ofhigh prices for the immediate future.  One such farmer was our Norway Township farmer who operated a 200 acre farm near the small village of Thor, Iowa (1930 population 257),  in Norway Township in Humboldt County, Iowa.   Although, the population of Thor had fallen during the decade of the 1920s–from 284 persons in 1920 to 257 persons in 1930.  The small village bounced back in the decade of the 1930s to a populations of 267 in the 1940 census.  This

A Township map of Humboldt County showing the location of Norway Township in the lower right-hand corner of this map and showing the location of the village of Thor as a shaded spot in the middle of Norway Township.

 

to seek a to made from   tradtiovies of the various nationaropes made from hemp have been used by the nally been the largest buyer in the rope market.  Thus,

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