Pubdate: 1904
Source: 1903 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture
Author: Lyster H. Dewey, Botanist in Charge of Investigations of Fiber Plants, Bureau of Plant Industry
Pages: 387-388, 392-393



One of the most important manufacturing industries of this country is that which includes the various lines of textiles. Leaving out the silk and woolen mills, which use chiefly animal fibers, there are the cotton factories, the linen and jute mills, and the twine and cordage mills, which use plant fibers exclusively. These number about 1,200 distinct establishments, representing an invested capital of more than $500,000,000 and giving productive employment to more than 300,000 persons.

The source of the raw material required by this great industry is an item of no small interest. Most of the cotton is produced in our Southern States, but nearly all the other vegetable fibers are imported. The importations of raw fiber, including cotton, during the fiscal year ended June 30, 1903, amounted to $46,161,172. These figures cover only the raw fiber. The importations of all the different kinds of textile plant fibers in the various stages of manufacture, from yarn and coarse twine to fine woven goods, laces, and hosiery, amount annually to more than $80,000,000.

Classification of Fibers

Vegetable fibers used in textile manufactures in this country may be readily divided into three rather distinct classes, either from the standpoint of the manufacturer, who regards the kind of machinery or process of treating the fiber and the character of the goods produced, or from the viewpoint of the botanist, who regards the character of the plant and the manner in which the fiber is borne. These three classes are:
(1) The cottons, with soft, lint-like fiber 1/2 inch to 2 inches long, composed of single cells borne on the seeds of different species of cotton plants.
(2) The soft fibers, or bast fibers, including flax, hemp, and jute; flexible fibers of soft texture, 10 to 100 inches in length, composed of many overlapping cells, and borne in the inner bark of the plants. (Pl. XLV, fig. 1.1903; USDA PLATE XLV FIBER TYPES)
(3) The hard, or leaf, fibers, including manila, sisal, mauritius, New Zealand fibers, and istle, all having rather stiff, woody fibers 1 to 10 feet long, composed of numerous cells in bundles, borne in the tissues of the leaf or leaf stem. (Pl. XLV, fig. 2.1903; USDA PLATE XLV FIBER TYPES)

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Hemp (Pl. XLVII, fig. 2 1903 USDA PLATE XLVII, FIG 2. GRIDLEY, CALIF. HEMP) originated in western Asia. Like flax, it was cultivated for fiber several centuries before the Christian era, and, next to flax, it was the most extensively used vegetable fiber until the introduction of cheaper cotton and jute. Hemp is now cultivated commercially in Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Turkey, China, Japan, and the United States. In Europe several rather distinct varieties of hemp are grown, the principal types being the Piedmont of France and northern Italy; the Neapolitan of southern Italy; the Smyrna of Turkey and Asia Minor; and the Russian of Russia and Hungary. All of these, and also the Japanese, Chinese, and Kentucky (or China-American) hemp, belong to the same species, Cannabis sativa L. This is the only true hemp, but the name hemp is unfortunately applied to many other fibers, most of which are quite different in character. About 15,000 acres in this country are annually devoted to hemp production. Nearly all of this is in the bluegrass region of Kentucky. Small area - less than 1,000 acres in all - are cultivated near Lincoln, Nebr., and at Gridley and Rio Vista, Cal. The total production of hemp fiber, varying from 6,000 to 9,000 tons, is not sufficient to supply the demands of our manufacturers, and more than 4,000 tons are imported annually, chiefly from Italy and Russia. Hemp fiber, prepared by water retting as practiced in Italy, is of a creamy-white color, lustrous, soft, and pliable. It makes a satisfactory substitute for flax, and is used for medium grades of nearly all classes of goods commonly made from flax, except the finer linens. When prepared by dew retting as practiced in this country, the fiber is gray, and somewhat harsh to the touch. It is used for yacht cordage, ropes, fishing lines, linen crash, homespuns, hemp carpets, and as warp in making all kinds of carpets and rugs.