San Diego’s Huge Hemp History – Part II

SD Huge Hemp History – Part II
The San Diego showdown – cannabis vs. trees for newspapers
By Dion Markgraaff

In part one of “San Diego has a huge hemp history” we rediscovered a $3 million San Diego cannabis corporation in Chula Vista.
In part two, we explore one of history’s greatest crimes or lost opportunities, when local historical icon – Edward “E.W.” Scripps had a chance to redirect the course of mankind with cannabis. Cannabis vs. Trees – the showdown that would alter the planet’s history took place RIGHT HERE IN SAN DIEGO, almost one hundred years ago.
E.W. Scripps was literally a founder of parts of San Diego, building most of the main roads at the beginning of the last century which is the basis for the present day freeway system of the 5, 8, 15, 163, and 395, with Scripps Ranch and Scripps Institute still bearing his name. The Scripps family’s enormous wealth came from the newspaper industry. In 1889, Scripps and Milton A. McRae founded the Scripps-McRae League of Newspapers, which later became the United Press Association. The company had many newspapers, and other papers purchased their syndicated material. Accordingly, Scripps was very influential in a time of limited news media. By the 1912 presidential election, he had access to nearly 70% of the voting population. After Woodrow Wilson won the US Presidential election that year, Postmaster Burleson of his cabinet wrote, “[it was] the Scripps papers that determined the election.”
Therefore, one of history’s greatest questions is why Scripps, with one of the biggest newspaper businesses in America, whose entire company was based on the cost of paper, balked at using a local, more reliable source such as cannabis, which provides superior quality at HALF the price of paper made from trees.
Cannabis vs. Trees
The showdown between these two raw materials for newspaper making happened August 3, 1917, at the famous Scripps “Ranch” Miramar house (today the house would be located north of the 52 Freeway and just east of the 15 Freeway). This was when and where George W. Schlichten, the inventor of a new hemp fiber retting machine, met with Scripps’ partner McRae, and Ed Chase, Scripps’ right-hand man. They were there to discuss the viability of using cannabis/hemp for paper versus the current process of using trees.
Secretly, the Miramar meeting showdown was transcribed into an eleven page document and mailed to Scripps, who kept it in his extensive archives. The Scripps Company kept this record of what was said and many letters to and from E.W. Scripps, giving future generations’ insight to this historic event and fateful decision.
The case for cannabis – with a revolutionary machine
In 1915 the German born immigrant, Schlichten, invented a unique hemp decorticating machine. This machine separated the hemp plant fiber from the stem and produced better quality fiber than other standard practices and reduced the labor intensive costs by hundreds of times. The other benefit of Schlichten’s machine was the fiber came out in a continuous stream (“sliver”) of fibers that were ready to be spun into all kinds of high quality fabrics.
Separating the fiber mechanically, as opposed to by hand as it was harvested from the field, was the key change in labor savings. In addition, Schlichten realized having his machine inside the factory, the clean pulp that was produced as a by-product was great for paper. An effective fiber decorticating machine was potentially the equivalent of the cotton gin for the hemp industry.
Cannabis activist, lawyer, and founder of The Ohio Hempery, Donald Wirtshafter, has unearthed most of the detailed evidence of Schlichten’s revolutionary hemp decorticator machine, which could have significantly changed the course of human history. Another well know person in San Diego and leading machinist of the time, Harry Timken called it “the greatest invention in the world”.
Harry Timken was an inventor and owner of the Timken Roller Bearing Co. Today, there is a museum in Balboa Park named after him. Timken invited Schlichten to use his ranch in Imperial Valley, east of San Diego. Schlichten planted 100 acres of hemp and some other experimental crops. By August 1917, the almost ready to harvest hemp field was such a bumper crop that it received national attention. Feature film companies, including newspaper rival and owner of timber interests Randolph Hearst, showed footage of the 14-foot tall plants in their weekly newsreels.
Timken, the founder of today’s multi-billion dollar Timken Co. family fortune, wrote Scripps on August 16, saying “I am informed that this is the best hemp crop ever produced in the United States.”
At the San Diego showdown meeting at Miramar August 3, the bottom line was – hemp is cheaper. From the secret recording, “Mr. McRae made the statement that paper, about seven months ago was being sold under contract at about $50.00 a ton, while it is now being sold at about $60.00 a ton, or at 3 cents a pound, or a little more; he then asked Mr. Schlichten what his idea would be of the cost of making paper using his material wholly or in part. Mr. Schlichten replied that it shouldn’t cost in excess of $25.00 a ton; and he made this statement with knowledge of the process of paper making, based upon the cost of the raw stock chemicals and other ingredients and their percentage, and also the cost of labor, etc.”
Not only that, Schlichten said, “every acre that I produce in hemp … will preserve five acres of forest.” He goes on to say, “But as far as paper is concerned, it is actually a crime to chop down trees to get a small percentage of paper.”

In addition, cannabis made better quality paper. Schlichten said, “Oh, yes, surely; but taking it for granted that the hemp hurds make superior paper, but if it is cheaper at the same time, why not use it for news. If it is cheaper for news paper stock, even though it will make better paper, why naturally it is a substitute for wood-pulp. This is providing you can get it in quantities cheaper.”

Further proof of cannabis’ usefulness for paper provided by the US Government

A year earlier in 1916, the United States Department of Agriculture produced BULLETIN No. 404 – PROFESSIONAL PAPER -HEMP HURDS AS PAPER-MAKING MATERIAL, by Lyster H. Dewey, Botanist in Charge of Fiber-Plant Investigations, and Jason L. Merrill, Paper-Plant Chemist, Paper-Plant Investigations. The report itself was printed on the hemp paper they produced. Schlichten points out at the showdown meeting at Miramar, “The hemp hurd is a practical success and will make paper of a higher grade than ordinary news stock. The Government has made on a large and practical scale paper—a beautiful sheet—and I can show you governmental reports printed on paper made from hemp hurds—the leavings after taking the fiber out.”
The report shows how cannabis was more productive than trees for paper. One acre of hemp would equal 4 times as much paper as trees would over the lifetime of the trees.
The USDA conclusion states “Semi commercial paper-making tests were conducted, therefore, on hemp hurds, in cooperation with a paper manufacturer. After several trials, under conditions of treatment and manufacture which are regarded as favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood, paper was produced which received very favorable comment both from investigators and from the trade and which according to official tests would be classed as a No. 1 machine-finish printing paper.”
By the end of the meeting at Miramar, cannabis appeared to be the showdown winner. McRae wrote to Scripps that same day – August 3, 1917 “I was somewhat of a skeptic about this proposition when I first received your letter. But I have been wonderfully impressed with the interview we had with Schlichten, and within a week or two we will be able to give you some more definite information in the premises.”
Further proof of the first round going well for cannabis, on August 7, 1917, McRae had Scripps’ secretary “purchase immediately from Superintendent of Documents, Government printing office, Washington, 20 copies United States Department of Agriculture Bulletin Number four hundred and four, describing hemp hurds as paper making material.  … Give two copies to E.W. to read … Ed Chase now making thorough investigation of new paper making scheme. .. Bulletin No. 404, as described in above telegram, which is a valuable document; it is a contribution from the Bureau of Plant Industry. The Bulletin was issued October 14, 1916, and contains an article entitled “Hemp Hurds as paper-making Material” by Lyster H. Dewey, Botanist in charge of fiber-plant investigations. The bulletin itself is printed upon paper manufactured from hemp hurds, so that the paper contained in the bulletin is a sample of what can be made from hemp hurds in the manufacture of paper… You might say to Mr. E.W. Scripps that there has been considerable advance made in paper making from hemp hurds since the bulletin was issued, according to Mr. Schlichten. Ed Chase is giving a great deal of his time to investigating the possibilities of our getting cheap paper from hemp hurds. You will recall that E.W. Scripps himself wrote me several letters urging that this be done. Please let E.W. see this letter.”
The follow up by Scripps & Co. seemed good for cannabis
On August 28, Ed Chase provided a detailed report to Scripps and McRae on his examinations into using hemp for paper. This record verifies the viability of the venture. Chase wrote that the Schlichten process was advancement over that reported in Bulletin No. 404. He confirmed the $25 per ton price—less than half the 1917 market price of wood paper.
Chase proposed a paper mill in San Diego, which was “the nearest harbor to the Imperial Valley hemp fields. Also a considerable acreage will probably be raised between Del Mar and Escondido.” With this, Chase figured hemp could supply all of Scripps Pacific Coast newspapers, with left over pulp for more businesses.
Chase says, “I have seen a wonderful, yet simple, invention. I believe it will revolutionize many of the processes of feeding, clothing and supplying other wants of mankind.” The cost of Schlichten’s operation located at the Timken Ranch in California’s Imperial Valley was detailed. Chase goes on to explain the value of this invention to Scripps:
FIRST: We make paper from an annual and thus help to preserve the forests, the streams and the soils.
SECOND: We make paper at lower cost than is possible from wood, for the following reasons:
A. Wood must have the bark, knots, etc., removed. The hurds are ready for the digester, when, as a by-product, they leave the Schlichten machine.
B. …less caustic soda….
C. Sulphite must be mixed with ground wood pulp; but not with the pulp from these hurds.
Furthermore, hemp paper, Chase says, “is of better quality than newsprint stock.”

More factors for consideration, the prices were forecasted to go higher for wood pulp
In August 14, 1917 another letter Scripps, who was an innovative and “progressive” person for his time, talks about the prospect of the costs of wood paper used by the Scripps Companies going up 50% or $1,125,000, which “sum is equal to about what our profits were last year.”
Further confirmation of the profitability of the local cannabis production prospects comes from another letter from Timken to Scripps dated September 5, “your man has been out there investigating the paper proposition and seems well pleased with the prospects. Personally, my impression is that a paper mill could be built and operated in San Diego to advantage, as soon as we get these machines working in a reasonable number… If I go into the Schlichten Decorticator business, you start a paper mill in San Diego and Spreckles starts a bagging factory, we would make a real start in doing something for San Diego and incidentally for ourselves; or rather, primarily for ourselves and incidentally for San Diego. I trust you will give the question of a paper mill very serious consideration and thought.”
On recount trees were better?
By September 17, 1917, just over two weeks after Chase’s seemingly great report from August 28, McRae and Chase traveled to Cleveland and spent two hours convincing Timken that newsprint could not be made cheaply enough from hemp. McRae said he “presented to Timken such information as to convince him beyond reasonable doubt, that while hemp herds can be utilized—by a chemical process—for making high grade book paper, that hemp herds cannot be utilized for making newspaper cheaply enough to be used by daily newspapers, but Timken agreed with me that there was no doubt but what hemp herds could be utilized successfully in making paper to be used by printers but not newspapers.”
McRae then instructed Chase to drop the matter and promised Scripps a full report later, but no evidence of anything further has been found.
What happened? Why?
Why and how they reached this conclusion is a mystery. Perhaps Chase didn’t receive support from the government, the railroads, the paper mills, or Scripps. Maybe these forces worked against the idea, in some conspiratorial vein.
Scripps had his own problems that fateful year, 1917. Due to a fight with his daughter, in May he left San Diego for good. He went to Washington DC to help his newspapers cover World War I. Additionally in September, Scripps was fighting with his oldest son over the company, while both his sons were under national pressure to be drafted into the war.
Schlichten filed and received patents in 1920 for improvements on his hemp decorticator machine. However, without a backer, Schlichten and his machinery fell into oblivion, and he died on February 3, 1923 of heart problems from “over exertion and worry”. Interestingly, his death certificate states that his heart condition had been going on for “3 years and 9 months”, which is right when the showdown at Miramar Scripps Ranch happened.
Schlichten had a chance to sell his decorticating machine. In 1916, he took his production of hemp sliver to the New York Market where it sold for a record price of $100 a ton, more than any other fiber had previously. A spinning mill owned by J. D. Rockefeller purchased Schlichten’s entire crop and paid him to supervise spinning the unfamiliar fibers into yarn. The mill was so impressed that they tried to buy exclusive rights to the invention and offered Schlichten more than he really wanted. Schlichten turned the offer down.
The exact reasons for all these fateful decisions remain unknown and need more investigation. Many lingering questions are unanswered. These events are a part of the legacy of our history that will forever be questioned by future generations asking why, while knowing this practice was morally criminal, humans cut down the forests of the world for an inferior, more expensive paper product (in the short and long term).
Schlichten expressly told these corporate deciders, “Don’t forget, Mr. McRae, that the time will be seen when wood cannot be used for paper any more. It will be too expensive or forbidden…. Now I tell you, that with the production of an annual, with my by-product, every acre that I produce in hemp or in cotton stock hurds will preserve five acres of forest… But as far as paper is concerned, it is actually a crime to chop down trees to get a small percentage of paper.”
By the mid-Thirties, technological innovation allowed the pulping of southern pines which alleviated the pulp shortage. The pulping of forests surged and a new industry grew in the South with the help of the government.
In the late 1930s, as Schlichten’s patents expired, other inventors suddenly came up with decorticators – Anton F. Burkardt, Robert B. Cochrane, Karl Wessel, as well as several others. Wessel was the inventor of the 100 ton hemp machine here in San Diego in 1927, located at the Imperial Linen Company in Chula Vista.
Cannabis versus trees…the environment lost when cannabis lost the showdown at Miramar Scripps Ranch. Through the years, paper companies have ravaged the world’s forests, which is knowingly unnecessary.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.