Part 2: The History of Hemp Fuels

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Fuel of the Future?
The Economics, History and Politics of Hemp Fuels

By David Malmo-Levine

Part Two: The History of Hemp Fuels

"Why use the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the fields?" -Henry Ford (53)

“The claim is that the threat hemp posed to natural resource companies back in the thirties accounts for its original ban.” - Hugh Downs, ABC news (54)

The First Cars Ran on Biofuel

Nikolaus August Otto, the German inventor of the combustion engine, conceived his invention to run on ethanol. Rudolf Diesel, the German inventor of the Diesel engine, conceived his invention to run on peanut oil. (55) In a 1912 speech, Rudolf Diesel said "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time." (56) Henry Ford designed the Ford Model T, a car produced between 1903 and 1926, to run on either gasoline or ethanol. (57) Ford was reported to have said; "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years." (58)

In the 1930s the Ford Motor Company invested heavily in biomass fuels. Ford operated a successful biomass conversion plant that included hemp, at their Iron Mountain facility in Michigan. Ford engineers extracted methanol, charcoal fuel, tar, pitch, ethyl-acetate and creosote out of hemp. All fundamental ingredients for modern industry – ingredients now supplied by oil-related industries. (59)

Not satisfied with just using biofuels, Ford actually made a car with a veggie-plastic body made from hemp, flax and ramie. It was so tough, he could attack it with an ax and not leave a dent! (60) It was “ten times” stronger than steel yet one-third the weight (which would improve mileage). (61) Footage of this car being attacked with a sledgehammer in mid-winter survives on the internet! (62)

In 1941, Popular Mechanics ran a story about Ford's hemp cars. They wrote; "Although no hint has been given as to when plastic cars may go into production, the experimental model is pictured as a step toward materialization of Henry Ford's belief that some day he would "grow automobiles from the soil." (63)

So what happened to Ford's dream of cars grown from the soil?

Well, with US alcohol prohibition repeal in 1933, most stills were abandoned or seized by the “dry squads”. Oil was super-cheap and everywhere, so oil engines grew more popular and alcohol engines less so. And with US hemp prohibition in 1937, the best raw material for making veggie plastic feedstock was removed from the economy. It was (Rockefeller's) Standard Oil, (Mellon's) Gulf Oil and DuPont who had the most to do with hemp prohibition, and the most to gain from it.

Hemp Prohibition and Big Oil

Prior to 1931, Harry Anslinger was Assistant U.S. Commissioner for Prohibition. In 1931, Anslinger, was hand-picked to head the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) by his uncle-in-law, Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury under President Herbert Hoover, designer of the FBN, and head of Gulf Oil. Andrew Mellon was also the owner and largest stockholder of the sixth largest bank (in 1937) in the United States, the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, one of only two bankers for DuPont from 1928 to the present. DuPont owned General Motors. (64)

In 1937,the Marijuana Tax Act put hemp farmers out of business. It was a prohibition pretending to be a tax, similar to the machine-gun tax act created two weeks earlier. Anslinger testified at the poorly attended committee hearing, calling for a total ban on “marihuana”. He stated under oath that “Opium has all the good of Dr. Jekyll and all the evil of Mr. Hyde. This drug [cannabis] is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effects of which cannot be measured". This statement contradicted what he wrote in a confidential memorandum to the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury that "the drug trade still has a small medical need for marihuana, but has agreed to eliminate it entirely." (65)

Bureaucrats planned the hearings to avoid the discussion of the full House and presented the measure in the guise of a tax revenue bill brought to the six member House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Du Pont ally Robert Doughton of North Carolina. This bypassed the House without further hearings and passed it over to the Senate Finance Committee, controlled by another DuPont ally, Prentiss Brown of Michigan, where it was rubber stamped into law. (66) Another prominent member of one Congressional subcommittee who voted in favor of this bill was Joseph Guffey of Pennsylvania, an oil tycoon and former business partner of Andrew Mellon in the Spindletop oil fields in Texas. (67)

An important clue to who was behind this prohibition-pretending-to-be-a-tax can be found in the DuPont 1937 Annual Report: "The revenue raising power of government may be converted into an instrument for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization". (68) With hemp rope gone, DuPont's new invention Nylon would be one of the synthetic “sudden new ideas” accepted by North American citizens.

Why Didn't the Herbalists Speak Up?

The Flexner Report is a book-length study of medical education in the United States and Canada, written by the professional educator Abraham Flexner and published in 1910 under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation. In fact, the report was partially conceived by Charles Eliot (of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller General Education Board and the Rockefeller Institute) and Simon Flexner (of the Rockefeller Institute) – who suggested his brother as author. (69) One of the recommendations of the report was that those who gave money to medical schools stop sponsoring the herbal schools, because they didn't have the proper “laboratories and texts”. (70)

Three years after publishing his report, Abraham Flexner went to work for the Rockefeller Institute, implementing the recommendations in his report for over two decades. (71) This influential report contributed greatly to the decline of alternative medicine, including herbology. (72) By 1932, Arthur Dean Bevan, the head of the American Medical Association's committees on medical education, stated he was “grateful [to Flexner for enabling] to put out of business” the eclectic medical schools in existence in 1910. (73)

By 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act was being debated, there were no herbalism schools – no “alternative medicine” schools of any kind - left to provide a champion to speak on behalf of medical cannabis. And the “left-wing” President was no help, either. According to one researcher, FDR (who signed the Marijuana Tax Act into law) was on the Rockefeller payroll from his first days in politics. (74) Rockefeller had successfully eliminated or bought any potential opponent to the hemp-substitute industries attempts at outlawing their natural competitor. Rockefeller's attack on herbalism made Mellon's attack on cannabis possible.

Mellon, DuPont and Rockefeller's other Scams

The long history of Mellon, DuPont and Rockefeller intrigues indicate a working relationship going back to the 1920's. During his first four years as Secretary of the Treasury, Mellon gave himself a tax refund of $404,000, an amount second only to one of $457,000 for John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and both of these men were tied to the “Teapot Dome” politicians-taking-bribes-from-oilmen scandal. (75) There is also evidence to suggest that both Rockefeller and Mellon were given advance notice to remove their savings from the stock market right before the crash of 1929. (76)

In the 1934, DuPont and Rockefeller contributed to the newly formed anti-FDR American Liberty League. (77) In that same year a bunch of wealthy men including Rockefeller, Mellon and DuPont were exposed by Smedley Darlington Butler – the most decorated Marine in US coup against FDR. Butler to make him the ruler of the USA. (78) Portions of Butler's story were corroborated, and the Senate committee did take the threat seriously and did verify that a fascist coup was indeed well past the planning stage, but the Senate committee expired before it could get around to punishing anyone. (79)

The “Business Plot” as it came to be known, wasn't the only time DuPont and Standard Oil flirted with fascism. In 1936, these corporations were noticed by the US Federal government for aiding the Nazi war machine. The US Ambassador in Germany, William Dodd, wrote FDR in from Berlin on Oct. 19, 1936, that “The DuPonts have three allies in Germany that are aiding in the armament business.... Standard Oil Company (New York Sub Company) sent $2,000,000 here in December 1933 ...” (80)

Mellon's Alcoa, DuPont and Standard Oil had all entered into cartel agreements with IG Farben, the Bayer-controlled super-chemical cartel and the Nazi's biggest financial backers. (81) DuPont owned Farben stock, (82) and Farben was a leading investor in Ford. (83)

These corporations even teamed up to put other competitors aside from history at the time – as plotters in an attempted claimed these industrialists approached him and offeredhemp out of business. Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines, a holding company sponsored and funded by (DuPont's) GM, Firestone, and (Rockefeller's) Standard Oil of California, bought out more than 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities (including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Baltimore, and Los Angeles) to be dismantled and replaced with GM buses. In 1949 GM and its partners were in fact convicted in U.S. district court in Chicago of criminal conspiracy in this matter and fined $5,000. (84)

If history proved that these corporations conspired to sponsor fascists, bribe politicians and eliminate streetcars in order to sell more cars and oil, is it so much of a stretch to believe they also conspired to eliminate hemp - another natural competitor? And is it that hard to believe that these same corporations continue to do so?

Bibliography & Notes

Continue to Part 3: The Politics of Hemp Fuel.

Return to Part 1: The Economics of Hemp Fuel.