History in Photos: Hemp Farming in Kentucky

Kentucky was the greatest producer of hemp in the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.


Hemp Breaking Winburn Farm 1942 – Photo Courtesy of Transylvania University Library

Hemp production declined after World War I due to the rise of tobacco as the cash crop in Kentucky and foreign competition of hemp fibers and finished products.

During World War II, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was lifted briefly to allow for hemp fiber production to create ropes for the U.S. Navy. The United States government released a film during in 1942 called “Hemp for Victory”. The documentary explained the uses of hemp and encouraged farms to grow as much as possible. After the war ended, hemp production reverted to its de facto illegal status.



In 1970, hemp production was banned by the Federal Government due to the War on Drugs and was tightened by the Controlled Substances Act passed that same year. Kentucky began production again under the new law passed under the Agricultural Act of 2014.

By Hope Thompson

See Also Folklife: The Lost Tradition of Lye Soap and Hog Kill’in Day, Sitting Up With the Dead: Lost Appalachian Burial Customs, Folklife: Creasy Greens and Leather Britches, History in Photos: Before Judy Garland: 1921 Rare Silent Film Prints of the Wizard of Oz

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