About Hemp: History

Hemp is one of the oldest and most versatile, cultivated plants known to humanity. It has been an economically important deliverer of fibres, food and medicine for more than six thousand years. Hemp was grown in almost all European and Asian countries and posed an important , if not maybe the most important raw material for making ropes, canvas, textiles for clothes, paper and oil products. The historic significance of hemp as a raw material is also based on it’s usage as a technical textile. In this area, hanf has written history repeatedly.

In China just about 2.800 B.C, the first rope in the world was twisted out of hemp fibres and at the same time, the first paper was created out of hemp. There are indications that in the 28th century B.C. China, clothes were also made out of hemp fibres. The oldest, preserved textile is dated back to approx. 1000 B.C. In the 17th century at the pinnacle of sailing, hemp experienced it’s heyday in Europe. Because of it being tearproof and it’s wet strength almost all ship’s sails and all rigging, ropes, nets, flags, and even the uniforms of the seamen were made of hemp. Every two years ships required between 50 and 100 tons of hemp fibres for standard equipment. Into the 18th century hemp fibres together with flax, nettle und wool were the central raw materials of the European textile industry. For paper production, pulp was produced out of rags.

The decline of the German and European hemp industry began in the 18th century and continued well ‘till the end of the 20th century, at which time, hemp became nearly insignificant – only recently, interest in hemp has revived strongly. Reasons for the downfall: because of the cotton spinnery industrialisation, cotton commenced a victorious, worldwide conquest. The strong reduction of sailing then hit the hemp industry additionally. After the middle of the 19th century, when making pulp out of wood was invented, hemp then lost its significance for the paper industry. Finally, the European hemp fibers were pressured by imported fibers e.g. jute, sisal, abaca and hemp from Russia; in the 20th century, synthetic fibers conquered most remaining technical fields of application.

At the same time, because of the marijuana prohibition, commercial hemp was put under pressure: in many countries hemp, regardless if commercial or drug hemp, was prohibited and remains partially forbidden today. Only since the 90ties, the prohibition for commercial hemp was lifted in many countries and those new areas of use became popular, where hemp fibres for technical, ecological and economical reasons, could capture new markets. Hemp seed was also rediscovered in the 90ties and new products such as hulled hemp seed were subsequently developed.

Historical data




First traces of usage in Asia, cannabis sativa’s botanical home.


Earliest finding of cannabis seed in the area of modern day Germany. (Eisenberg/Thuebingen)


Proof of hemp usage in, amongst other areas, modern Thuringia and Bavaria.

Work with hemp fibres is discovered in Turkestan.


First written mentioning of hemp as medicine.


The Egyptians record descriptions of hemp on temple walls. The Assyrians mention hemp for the first time in their writings, they call it "Qunnu-Bum" (spicy pipe plant), from which the Latins created the word cannabum, then cannabis.


King Solomon orders a huge amount of hemp rope for the temple construction.


Phrygians leave cloths out of hemp fibres behind in their burials mounds.

The Skythians, who were fond of travel, provided hemp’s wide spreading.


Discriptions of hemp in cuniform writing on clay tablets in the Royal Library of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal.

- 500

Hemp seed as burial gift of the Germanic tribes and Celts.

In China, government taxes are paid with hemp stems.

China invents the production of hemp paper.

Hemp cultivation begins in Norway.

Because of sailing’s growing significance, more hemp rope is constantly needed. Main european cultivation areas are Gaul and Sicily.

In China, paper is made out of hemp.
Sweden begins with hemp cultivation.

Germany and England begin hemp cultivation.


Merowingian Kings are buried in hemp garments. From India, hemp cultivation and usage spreads as far as the Arabian countries.


The first botanical diagrams of the hemp plant in the „Anicia Juliana“, Dioscorides Codes


Adelgunds garments, in which she was buried 565 A.D. in Paris, were made of fully crafted hemp fabric.


Carl the Great ordains farmers to hemp cultivation. Taxes could also be paid in hemp seed.

Opening of the first paper mill in Nurnberg for mass paper production. Paper was made primarily out of old textiles (rags), that at least contained hemp-fibre.


The hemp paper method reaches Europe and makes the Gutenberg Revolution possible, the printing press.


Gutenberg prints a bible on hemp paper.


In the New World, the spaniards introduce hemp cultivation.

Henry VIII commands Englands farmers to cultivate hemp and flax. At this time almost all textiles were made of hemp linen, all ropes and even the sinews of the feared longbow are made of hemp.

Jamestown: Settlers plant hemp for the first time on american soil, to produce yarns and ropes.


Virginia: The first american hemp law comes into power “Concerning the English and Indian hemp, we demand that all households that possess such seeds in our colonies, sow them in the next season.” (Plenum of Virginia Resolution)


New England: Hemp is introduced and progresses quickly into the textile industry’s main raw material .


Hemp is regarded in the most part of North America as legal tender and can be used to pay taxes. (this applied well into the early 19th century)

*George Washington, hemp farmer (and first president of the USA).

*Thomas Jefferson, American President and hemp grower.


The botanist Linnaeus classifies Cannabis Sativa.


The great hemp consumption causes a shortage of this all-purpose applicable, raw material. In the colony Virginia, punishment is imposed against farmers not cultivation hemp (until 1767).

Hard blow for the hemp industry because of the dawn of the steam era. Less demand for hemp rope used for ships rigging.
Begin of hemp industry in Kentucky.
Hemp becomes Kentucky’s main product; in 1860 over 40,000 tons of hemp are produced.
Invention of the cotton Egrenier-Machine causes the hemp industry a new setback

With introduction of whale oil used as lamp oil, hemp oil gets more competition.


Napoleon attacks Russia and almost reaches Moskow to, among other things, prevent hemp exports to England.

In the USA, 8327 hemp plantations are counted (minimum size 80 ha) where particularly black slaves work.
Lamp oil out of cannabis is replaced increasingly by petroleum and kerosine.

Mexican farmers begin hemp cultivation.


Hemp tincture belongs to the most frequent prescribed medicament in pharmacies.


In Italy, hemp cultivation is conducted on a total of approx. 90-100,000 hectars.


During the war years in Germany, hemp cultivation is increasingly propagated and also practised.


In the USA, 58,000 tons of hemp seed are used alone for paints and lacks.


USA: Du Pont assures government representatives that hemp oil can be replaced through a synthetic oils. (of course, these in the majority, can mostly be produced by Du Pont)


Until 1937 approx. 80% of the worldwide used twines, ropes and thaws were made of hemp. Main producer between 1740 and 1940 is Russia. The American trade journal „Mechanical Engineering“ listed hemp advantages in numerous pages and head-titled the whole article: “The Most Useful Domestic Plant, One Can Wish For.”

Du Pont lets both the procedure for producing plastic from oil, as well as the sulphate/sulphite method for paper production out of wood, be patented. (these patents secures 80% of Du Ponts total revenue for the next 50 years).

The Du Pont method is more expensive and even more ecologically harmful than the hemp paper-procedure. The paper produced is even of lesser quality.

First hemp prohibition in USA and after 1945, also in West Europe.


Du Pont, leading in hemp oil business, presents the nylon fibre.

The automobile pioneer Henry Ford presents his „Hempmobile“ to the media, a car that is manufactured out of hemp (hemp plastics for the car body, armatures, textile interior equipment.) and is driven with hemp.

Ford emphasises the more favourable CO2 balance in comparison to gasoline driven cars.


USA: For a crucial advantage in war and in order to get farmers support production of this important raw material, the most massive hemp-advertising film of all times is shown.

Europe: Because of the war, hemp cultivation is once more propagandised over all in Europe.

The German Reich Nourishment Authority issues an elaborately designed instruction document (“The Funny Hemp Manual”) and the Swiss Ministry of Agriculture trys to motivate its citizens with the "Svensk Hampodling" broshure.


After the war, hemp cultivating receeds back into insignificance.


As european pioneer, HanfHaus GmbH is established and develops the first hemp products once again.


Subsequently, more HempHouses and hemp specialised stores emerge – making more hemp products available for consumers.


After a court case, hemp’s cultivation prohibition in Germany is uplifted.


Hemp is cultivated and processed again on 2,800 hectars and HanfHaus brings the first local products (cooking oil, seeds) onto the market.


The HanfHaus GmbH files bankrupcy. The online-shop www.hanfhaus.de is continued (by Hempro Int.)


In the car industry, doing without press moulded parts and fibre composites e.g. such as door, interior lining, would be inconceivable.


After difficult hemp cultivation experiences in the initial years, German farmers interest is increasing and the total cultivation area in Germany is once more expanding.

Texts were compiled in cooperation with www.nova-institut.de (Authors: D. Kruse / M. Karus)