Pubdate: June 13, 2001
Source: Rock River Times (IL)
Author: M.L. Simon


Hemp has a very recent and interesting history in the Rockford, Illinois area.

The story starts in 1937 when marijuana was outlawed. Since America
law enforcement was unable to tell the difference between hemp and
marijuana hemp growing was outlawed.

Let jump forward to 1942. America is in a war with Japan and Japan has cut the US of A off from Asian hemp supplies from the Philippines and Java. Hemp was essential at that time for making naval ropes because of its long fibers, strength, and strength when wet. In addition it resisted rot and mildew making it relatively long lasting in a very harsh environment ranging from the frozen Arctic to the tropical Pacific.

The American response was to forget about hemp/marijuana prohibition and grant special licenses to mid-west farmers to grow hemp. In addition to educate and encourage farmers a film "Hemp for Victory" was made by the agriculture department to explain how important hemp was to the war effort and to encourage farmers to plant it.

Now we get closer to Rockford. A pilot plant built in Polo, Illinois in Ogle County was to serve as a center for hemp production in the surrounding area. It was expected that 42 hemp mills would be needed in the mid-west and 11 in Illinois.

The first harvest was in 1943. Because much of the machinery was untested and the hemp tangled the machinery started breaking down. Production suffered and yet had to be completed before the end of harvest season. With a war on and labor at peak demand where could the Agriculture Department turn to fill its labor needs?

It turns out that Camp Grant in Rockford had quite a few German prisoners of war from the African campaign who were brought in by bus to help harvest the hemp. By January 6th of 1944 fifty-two truck loads of hemp had been brought to the hemp mill. One hundred and fifty one tons of fiber total were delivered to spinning mills on the East coast. The hemp brought a little over ninety-three dollars an acre.

By 1944 the government started closing the hemp plants because of the availability of alternate supplies from Central America and the Mediterranean region. By 1945 the Hemp for Victory Program was over.