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1951 | UK professor publishes "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky"

A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky was written by James F. Hopkins, a University of Kentucky professor who published the book under the University of Kentucky Press in 1951. It surveys the hemp industry in Kentucky from its beginning through its complete demise at the end of World War II, describing the processes of seeding and harvesting the plant, and marketing manufactured goods made of the fiber.

James F. Hopkins

James F. Hopkins, born in 1909, became an assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky when he was granted a leave of absence to study for his doctor's degree from Duke University. In April 1948, he announced in a local newspaper that his dissertation would be entitled "The Hemp Industry in Kentucky." Click here to download PDF of the April 30, 1948 edition of The Kentucky Kernel.

Hopkins became drawn to the hemp industry during his research and editing of "The Papers of Henry Clay." Clay was particularly active in hemp production, which caught the attention Hopkins, who went on to extensively research the hemp industry. On November 1, 1948, Hopkins addressed a meeting at the Filson Club in Louisville, Kentucky. His subject was "The Production of Hemp in Kentucky for Naval Use." Two months later on Jan 31, 1949, The Filson Club Quarterly published an article written by Hopkins, also titled, "Production of Hemp in Kentucky for Naval Use."

Original copy of "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" written by UK Professor James F. Hopkins.
Original copy of "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" written by UK Professor James F. Hopkins.

Although Hopkins's final work on "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" was formally published in 1951, and it remains remarkably current today. The revision edition includes an updated bibliography of recent publications concerning the scientific, economic, and political facets hemp.

Below is the preface from A History of Hemp in Kentucky:

The Kentucky hemp industry has been discussed by most of the historians of the state and by other writers who deal with the Bluegrass scene, but the treatment which they have given it has usually been brief and seldom more than cursory. Two exceptions stand out: James Lane Allen in his novel, The Reign of Law, a Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields (1900), gives a poetic description of hemp culture and an imaginative, inaccurate sketch of the history of hemp in Kentucky. In 1905, Brent Moore followed with a more serious work entitled A Study of the Past, the Present and the Possibilities of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky, a doctoral dissertation in political science at Columbia University. Moore devoted less than half of his 115-page book to the history of hemp; the remainder of the volume contains a discussion of the industry as it existed at the time he wrote and an examination of its possibilities for the future. His brief history is to a large extent based on a newspaper file and some other source materials, but he makes little effort to weigh and interpret the data which he obtained. The book was privately printed and is now something of a rarity.

The objective of the present work is in general to tell as completely as possible the story of the hemp industry in the state where, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the first World War, the major portion of American hemp grew and was manufactured. Other states participated in the industry to a lesser extent, and in the late 1850’s Missouri challenged briefly the leadership of Kentucky in hemp production. In the following pages, attention is centered upon the industry in Kentucky, but an effort is made to relate that industry to the production and manufacture of hemp in other states in the Union. In no other area, however, was the hemp industry as important in the lives of the people over as long a period of time as it was in Kentucky.

This study undertakes to explain the methods of cultivating the crop, of obtaining the fiber from the plants, and of transforming that fiber into a finished product. It traces the rise and decline of the industry, attempts to explain the factors which influenced prices and production, and makes an effort to assign hemp to its proper place in the economic life of Kentucky. A considerable amount of space is devote to a study of the production and preparation of hemp for marine use, a subject which has not been generally understood. In that connection as elsewhere many of the conclusions reached in this volume do not agree with those of other writers, but an effort has been made to avoid expressing differences of opinion merely for the sake of being different.

The writer wishes to express his thanks for the assistance given him by the staffs of the National Archives, the Lexington Public Library, the Louisville Free Public Library, and the libraries of Duke University, the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky State Historical Society, and the Filson Club. He is indebted to Professor J. Merton England of the University of Kentucky for his indispensable editorial assistance, and to Professor Charles S. Sydnor for the patient advice and constructive criticisms which helped bring this study into existence in its original form as a doctoral dissertation at Duke University.

Special acknowledgment is due to the Research Fund Committee of the University of Kentucky, whose generosity has made possible the publication of this book.

To his wife, Bernice Hoey Hopkins, the writer owes an infinite debt of gratitude for her inspiration, cheerful encouragement, and extensive aid in the preparation of this study.


Revised version of "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" written by James F. Hopkins.
Revised version of "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky" written by James F. Hopkins.

Hopkins' original work has been revised numerous times. Newer editions feature an updated bibliography of recent publications. They also include a forward by Thomas D. Clark which notes,

"Hopkin's careful research and objectively written book may well be considered definitive. He explored this history of a fascinating field crop with dependable thoroughness. No other Kentucky field crop had the particular social, political, and economic ramifications that hemp has had. This book thus has a continuing relvancy in that no future decisions, negative or positive, concerning the revival of hemp growing as an American field crop can approach an intelligent understanding of the historic background of the industry without at least referring to Hopkins's carefully researched and written study."

*Much of Kentucky Hempsters history information comes from James F. Hopkins' work in "A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky." See sources on history blogs for reference.

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