San Diego’s Huge Hemp History – Part I

Written by: Dion Markgraaff

San Diego has a huge hemp history. Just as today, San Diego has always been a big player on the course for cannabis. A conspiracy of market forces played a major part in the twists and turns down that historical hemp road. Some of the most famous San Diego historical figures like E.W. Scripps, Henry Timken, and the Spreckels family played various roles in the cannabis plant’s path in the market place.

San Diego’s hemp history can be seen today in some of the city’s most famous buildings at Balboa Park. The original buildings in Balboa Park are made with cannabis. The parks website says:

Built for “First World’s Fair: The 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today—the first of two Expositions that created many of the cultural institutions as well as the stunning architecture in the Park. The California Tower and dome, which houses the San Diego Museum of Man, the Cabrillo Bridge (historic 1,500-foot-long bridge) and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion (one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs) were built for the 1915 Exposition-some of the few permanent structures designed for the fair.”

Although there is no mention of the building’s hemp history in the park’s latest promotions, one just has to dig into the old records to see references to hemp and the cannabis plant’s role in “reinforcing” the mortar used to build these structures.

San Diego’s Solar Power
If there were no restrictions on growing cannabis, San Diego would be a world leader in cultivation for one simple reason, the sun. Some of the best hemp results in history have happened right here in our region.
In 1917, the national media thoroughly documented the hemp farming taking place locally at the famous Timkin Ranch. A detailed report said local farmers “produced about 125 tons of hemp fiber and 312.5 tons of hemp hurds from his 100 acre hemp field.”

“Mr. Schlichten raised five tons of hemp stalks to the acre on a one hundred acre patch on the Timken Ranch. He will pay the growers $15.00 per ton for dry hemp stalks delivered to his machine. They have only to be shocked to dry properly in a few days. Thus the farmer gets $75.00 an acre for this crop which matures in 100 days. The stubble and that part of the leaves and tops which remain on the field (containing in excess of 50% of nitrogen) are wonderful fertilizer. Moreover, the hemp kills all weeds. The farmer’s land is left in fine condition for immediate planting of other crops. A second crop could be raised.”

From each ton of dry hemp stalks costing him $15.00, Mr. Schlichten gets the following:
About  500 lbs. hemp fiber @ $0.16 per lb.          $80.00
About 1250 lbs. hurds @ $5.50 per ton               $3.44
About  250 lbs. leaves, tops, etc.  @ $5.50 per ton   $.69
From each ton, about                                  $84.13
From each acre, about                                $420.65
From his experimental 100 acre patch, about       $42,065.00

Another well documented hemp adventure in San Diego’s History was the Imperial Linen Products Corporation, a $3 million dollar hemp processing factory which was located on National Boulevard at Harborside in Chula Vista.
Leaders of San Diego were a part of the head of this cannabis company.

An advertisement for Imperial Linen Products Corporation in the December 1927 issue of  San Diego Magazine summed up the vision of the corporate leaders, some of whom where the “founders” of the city. The president of this cannabis company, Alfred Jr. Stahel, who was on San Diego’s Common Council between 1931-1932, stated “I visualize this enterprise as becoming the most important in the West and look for it to revolutionize the entire industry in America, because it is my firm belief that during the coming decade you will see a large proportion of the textile industry of the United Sates located in southern California”.

As seen in the architect’s sketch in the company’s advertisement, the Imperial Linen Products Corporation factory was to be 50 acres in size, employ 3000 persons, and cost $150,000 for construction. The ad states the purpose of the company was to “take HEMP, grown in Southern California, plus LOCAL LABOR, and produce Fiber, Rugs, Textiles, Fabrics, Insulating and Building Lumber, Paint and Varnish Remover and a Base for Stain.”

In the February 1928 issue of San Diego Magazine, Claus Spreckels, the director of the Imperial Linen Corporation, described the construction of the factory. He wrote about the “new machinery that will be employed”.  A modernized 100-ton hemp decorticating machine, invented by Karl Wessel an “internationally known textile engineer” which “upon demonstration it was declared to be a marvel and would revolutionize the textile industry.” Claus says. The products produced will be “made from the hemp, which will be grown in the Imperial Valley, and shipped via the San Diego & Arizona Railroad to San Diego.”

Claus was the son of the founder of San Diego, John D. Spreckels, who built the Spreckels Theatre and donated the Spreckels Outdoor Organ Pavilion located in Balboa Park to the people of San Diego.  John D. Spreckels’ biographer, Austin Adams, called him “one of America’s few great Empire Builders who invested millions to turn a struggling, bankrupt village into the beautiful and cosmopolitan city San Diego is today”. At one time he paid 10% of all the property taxes in San Diego County.

What happened to the San Diego’s first large scale industrial Hemp Factory?
The Imperial Linen Products Corporation building is still there today. For many years the building was occupied by the National City Dehydration Plant.

Problems with obtaining water for growing hemp, the Federal Stamp Act of 1937, and transportation issues are some of the possible reasons this company went out of business, or perhaps other forces were at play. However, the US Federal Government’s policies towards cannabis cultivation and state’s new laws against “marijuana” are the most likely culprits.

In INDUSTRIAL HEMP FARMING: HISTORY AND PRACTICE, David P. West Ph. D says “By 1930, as the nation struggled under Depression, hemp acreage was again in decline. The uses to which hemp was being put were enumerated by [USDA’s Lyster] Dewey in a 1931 article titled ‘Hemp fiber losing ground, despite its valuable qualities:’ …. Fibers are fungible commodities. They move in international markets and are purchased in huge volumes where small price fluctuations are highly significant. In rough times, quality loses to price. Hemp lost to sisal and jute, as natural fibers in general lost out to the new, exciting synthetics. As has been the general trend with agricultural products, many of hemp’s markets were being displaced by synthetic materials from the growing organic chemical industry. What was lacking was a determined effort to develop new uses and new markets for hemp. Why was this? The interplay of political and economic forces in the increasing political power of the South and cotton over agricultural policy, and its effect on allocations for fiber research at the USDA, has been described elsewhere. Hemp was not alone in the erosion of its markets. The production of flax for fiber had virtually disappeared. Flax was grown primarily as an oilseed crop. It commanded greater influence than hemp due to the importance of linseed oil for paints and varnishes and linoleum.”

In Fiber Wars: The Extinction of Kentucky Hemp, David P. West Ph. D says “Against this backdrop came a new specter, a new combatant in Fiber Wars. Synthetic polymers made from natural cellulose (first from cotton lint, later from wood pulp) were discovered in the late nineteenth century. By 1905, the first synthetic fiber, rayon, had appeared in England. DuPont introduced rayon fabric around 1917. Rayon production in the United States increased from 10 to 380 million pounds between 1920 and 1939 and approximately doubled during the war period. By 1941, United States production of rayon was equivalent to 1,350,000 bales of cotton.”

Who knows? We at NUG Magazine will continue to unearth the historical nuggets of information, as we try to piece together the puzzle of why cannabis is in the place it is today.

Part II – The cannabis conspiracy with Scripps & Hearst – Crime of the Centuries?

bringing you that fire!

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