Hemp in history

From Antiquity to the present day, hemp has been used throughout the ages. Its use in India, Persia, Egypt and Greece has allowed it to adapt to the needs of its contemporaries. Here is a look at the evolution of hemp, a plant with many facets, throughout its history.

Hemp throughout history

Hemp timeline throughout history

  • 26,900 BC: the date of discovery of rope fragments in the former Czechoslovakia in 1997. Hemp is a strong plant material and was used for many purposes, including the manufacture of ropes for the navy.
  • 8000 BC and 4000 BC: Textile archaeologists find fragments of woven hemp in China and Kazakhstan.
Chanvre pharmacopée chinoise
  • 2800 B.C.: The first use of hemp in medicine is believed to be due in part to the Chinese Emperor Shennong. A Chinese pharmacopeia text (2727 BC) mentions the plant for its properties against malaria, rheumatism and as a sedative. 
  • 500 BC (around): Herodotus describes the steam baths of the Scythians, who took hemp seeds and placed them on burning stones. As they burned, the hemp seeds gave off a very strong steam, which they used as a bath.
  • 121 BC, 476 AD: Hemp was also used to make ropes.
  • 62 - 117 (between): Invention of paper made from hemp. This technique was developed by a Chinese craftsman, Cai Lun, for the Chinese emperor. After the Battle of Samarkand (751), this method of producing hemp-based paper was transmitted to the West.
  • 1098 - 1179 (circa): Hildegard von Bingen praised the benefits of hemp against phlebitis and stomach pains.
  • 1456: Johannes Gutenberg's "42-line Bible", the first Bible printed on hemp paper. With this work, the famous German printer marks a turning point in the history of printing.
  • 1492: Christopher Columbus sails to America in caravels equipped with 80 tons of hemp sails and ropes. This versatile plant quickly becomes a valuable currency in the American colonies, due to its many applications and the growing demand from the navy.
  • 17th and 18th centuries (during): competition for maritime supremacy between European powers. Hemp has a strategic value. It is used in the manufacture of rigging sails, ropes, cables, ladders, shrouds, and fishing nets. The French Royal Navy, officially founded by Henry II in 1547, reached the same level as the Danish, English and Spanish fleets under the reign of Louis XIV (1653). This rise was largely due to the efforts of Richelieu and Colbert, who encouraged the development of hemp cultivation in France (see page to Hemp cultivation and know-how) and encouraged its industrial expansion by creating the Corderie de Rochefort-sur-Mer.
Filasse de chanvre fabrication papier Canson
  • 1776: Declaration of Independence of the United States on 4 July 1776. Hemp paper is used for its publication.
  • 1807: Patent for tracing paper. Hemp yarn is used to manufacture the innovation created by the Canson company.
  • 1850 (from): Influence of the petrochemical era. The petrochemical era begins to replace hemp with wood in paper production, influenced by Canada and the United States, which have extensive forest resources.
  • 20th century: the West considers hemp a drug. It was banned in the UK in 1928 and in France after the Second World War.
Tissu en chanvre
  • Although the famous "Nîmes" fabric (denim), which gave birth to jeans, was initially made from hemp, the advent of cotton, coal and oil gradually led to a decline in hemp cultivation in Europe. 
  • 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act prohibits the cultivation of hemp in the United States, despite its common use in the American pharmacopeia where it occupied an important place. This legislation contributes greatly to the disaffection of its use and its replacement by other raw materials.
  • 1938: Nylon is patented. Advances in chemistry in the United States lead to the introduction of synthetic fibres, offering an alternative to natural fibres. Faced with this competition, hemp is forced to fight for its survival. Plastics and polymers began to replace traditional hemp products such as ropes, textiles and paper.
  • 1942: The US government produces the propaganda film "Hemp for Victory" to promote the cultivation of hemp, despite the ban, to meet the US army's need for tenting and rope.
  • 1945: Nylon, a synthetic fibre, gradually replaces hemp in many applications, making hemp cultivation less relevant. The UN then bans hemp cultivation in most countries of the world in the name of the fight against drugs, without taking into account industrial uses.
  • 1961: The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, signed by 186 countries, includes industrial hemp in the category of controlled drugs, despite its low THC concentrations, thus accentuating the stigma of the plant.
  • 1970: The US Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis and hemp as Schedule I drugs, prohibiting their cultivation, use and sale.
  • 1990-2000: research and technical innovations make it possible to better distinguish industrial hemp from cannabis, paving the way for a gradual rehabilitation of the plant.
hemp: a popular material for eco-construction
  • Today: France is the main producer of hemp in Europe. The plant is experiencing a worldwide revival of interest due to its many environmental virtues. The modernity of hemp also lies in its contribution to the development of innovative bio-based materials. Hemp fibres are used in the manufacture of thermal and acoustic insulation, as well as in the creation of light and strong composite materials. It is also becoming increasingly popular in the field of eco-construction.