“Hemp for Victory”


Hemp For Victory


During World War II, when cordage imports of abaca and jute were unavailable from the Pacific, the Government instituted an emergency program to produce hemp as a domestic substitute. The wartime hemp regime was financed by the Defense Plant Corporation and operated by the Commodity Credit Corporation contracting with War Hemp Industries, Inc., a quasi-official organization, to produce planting seed from Kentucky to grow over 300,000 acres of fiber for cordage by 1943.

The US Federal Government established an industrial hemp research regime during WWII labeled by the USDA in promotions as “Hemp For Victory,” planning over 70 mills across the Midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Kentucky).

This USDA sponsored film was made to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort because other industrial fibers, often imported from overseas, were in short supply. The film shows a history of hemp and hemp products, how hemp is grown, and how hemp is processed into rope, cloth, cordage, and other products.



Before 1989, the film was relatively unknown. The United States government denied ever having made such a film.  The United States Department of Agriculture library and the Library of Congress told all interested parties that no such movie was made by the USDA or any branch of the US government. Two VHS copies were recovered and donated to the Library of Congress on 19 May 1989 by Maria Farrow, Carl Packard, and Jack Herer.

The only known copy in 1976 was a 3/4″ broadcast quality copy of the film that was originally obtained by William Conde in 1976 from a reporter for the Miami Herald and the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church of Jamaica. It was given in trust that it would be made available to as many as possible. It was put into the hands of Jack Herer by William Conde during the 1984 OMI (Oregon Marijuana Initiative). The film 20 years later is now available in numerous locations on the Internet.



“The King of Hemp”


Matt Rens, a hemp farmer from Wisconsin, established the first designated hemp mill under this program and quickly, Minnesota had 11 mills planned while Illinois had 15 hemp mills by the end of 1943 both with state targeted 60,000 acres of production.


Matt Rens' hemp mill in 1940.

Matt Rens’ hemp mill – 1940 (Brandon, Wisconsin)



Rens hemp mill as it stands today in Brandon, Wisconsin.


The Rens hemp mill is still standing at the end of Hemp Road in Brandon, Wisconsin

The Rens hemp mill is still standing at the end of Hemp Road in Brandon, Wisconsin


In fact, the need was so pressing that in 1942 the US Government decided to get into the act itself and drafted a plan to build government-owned and operated hemp mills in the upper midwest in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as well as a smaller number in Kentucky. In moving forward aggressively with their hemp production program, the government took a number of decisive steps.

  1. First, they consulted Matt and asked for his advice on how to expand production, build mills, train managers, and process hemp.
  2. Second, they contracted with Northwest Flax Industries in Winona, Minnesota, to construct approximately $1,000,000 worth of hemp breaking machines for installation in their forty-two plants.
  3. Third, they opened a special training school in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to train 170 men they had hired to manage and operate their mills.
  4. Fourth, they constructed their mills at a cost of approximately $350,000 each (about $5 million in today’s currency). The government’s goal was to plant 30,000 to 37,000 acres of hemp in Kentucky in 1942 for seed production purposes. This was preparation for meeting the goal of planting between 300,000 to 450,000 acres of hemp in 1943 that could then be processed for its fiber.

It was during these war years that Matt solidified his reputation as the Hemp King of America. It has been reported that during this period Wisconsin supplied about three fourths of the hemp raised in the country and that Matt, in his two mills, produced more hemp than any manufacturer in the United States. In fact, a 1940 Milwaukee Journal article reports that at the beginning of the war period Matt’s mills processed ninety-five percent of the country’s hemp. While the country’s production records are somewhat contradictory, a 1944 Iowa State Bulletin reports it as follows:

W.W.I period 10,000-15,000 acres per year were planted
1930’s 1,200 acres per year were planted
1941 7,000 acres were planted
1942 13,500 acres were planted
1943 176,000 acres were planted

A 1971 article in the Appleton, Wisconsin, “Post Crescent Magazine” reports that the Wisconsin hemp crop from 1938-1943 produced an average of 7.9 million pounds of fiber, but that the 1944 Wisconsin crop produced 19 million pounds. The average yield was said to be about 850 pounds of fiber per acre. On the other hand, other reports indicate that Matt’s mills processed over 3600 acres of hemp during their peak years and in one year produced nearly 4,000,000 pounds of fiber. However it is viewed, the Matt Rens Hemp Company produced a significant portion of the nation’s fiber prior to the government’s war effort and played a continuing and expanded role during the critical war years.

During USDA promoted “Hemp For Victory” program throughout the 1940’s, publications such as the Chicago Tribune also advertised the opportunity ;

STATE (ILLINOIS) TO GET 15 UNITS : Fifteen hemp plants will be built in the northern half of Illinois to handle production from a proposed 60,000 acres of hemp in 1943…a total of 71 mills will be erected in the nation.  The plants will be financed by the Defense Plant corporation and operated by the Commodity Credit corporation…Each mill will cost approximately $350,000.”- Chicago Tribune (Nov. 12, 1942 – pg. 30)


War Hemp Industries PosterWar Hemp Industries - Poster



War Hemp Industry – Post WWII

By 1943, growing industrial hemp for wartime preparedness was embraced by most, with Iowa and other states joining the effort to support production needs.  Producing over 142 million pounds of fiber to be used in Naval cordage at the peak of the USDA program (the last subsidized hemp mill closed in Wisconsin in 1959).

For the next 56 years, the feral hemp still growing in the ditches and fields across the Midwest (despite yearly eradication efforts) has yet to again be Federally encouraged and enacted in the name of American security.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12919, entitled “National Defense Industrial Resources Preparedness,” which was intended to strengthen the U.S. industrial and technology base for meeting national defense requirements. The order included hemp among the essential agricultural products that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes. (Congressional Research Report)

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed Executive order 13603. The purpose of this executive order is to delegate authority and address national defense resource policies and programs under the Defense Production Act of 1950.  Executive Order 13603 provides the framework and authority for the allocation or appropriation of resources, materials, and services to promote National defense, including hemp among critical industrial and agricultural feed stocks identified under the order.

The question remains; is America ready for Hemp for Victory 2 and what will the next generation of Federal Government encouraged hemp industries look like?  There are entrepreneurs that are taking the challenge to revitalize the American hemp industry head on.  Profiled in our CBD Report, Pure Hemp Botanicals, Atalo Holdings Inc. and New West Genetics are all best of breed, next generation hemp companies to watch.

SOURCE : USDA & New Head News & National Archives Catalog

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