Factoid #5 – Henry Ford’s Hemp Car
It’s not a joke. Also known as the Soybean Car, Henry Ford’s first Model-T was centered around agricultural bioproducts and industrial hemp technology. Contrary to some belief, it was not entirely made of hemp. However, Ford believed in it so much that on his large estate he grew over 12,000 acres of it. He was often quoted that the car was ‘grown from the soil’ relying on the assistance of George Washington Carver’s botany and science expertise to assist in the bio-compounds.
Very few realize that the technology surrounding industrial hemp was well under way by the late 1930’s. Henry Ford and his team of engineers had made amazing advancements in hemp plastics, fabrics and biofuels as a hedge against steel rationing. In 1941, after 12 years of R&D, Ford rolled out a prototype automobile with a majority of it being produced from a combination of hemp fiber, ramie, flax, soy and liquid bio-resin. The side panels were dent-free and 10 times stronger than steel and 1000lbs lighter. The motor was designed to run off of hemp oil, ethanol or any other plant biofuels. It was the most eco-friendly auto manufacturer in the world significantly surpassing even today’s EPA standards.
However, due to America’s entry into WWII, and largely because of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, industrial hemp was erroneously labeled along with the THC cannabis cousin as an illegal substance. Ford and others were forced to walk away from industrial hemp cultivation and hemp production technologies leaving a vast void for petroleum products and the established steel industry. There is speculation that Dupont and the steel mills forced legislation that prohibited hemp interest.
Fortunately, companies like Hemp Flax of Netherlands and Canadian automaker, Kestral have been leading the way with a renewed look at the benefits of biocomposites which are less expensive to produce and relatively no health risks to workers. It’s taken nearly 80 years for auto manufacturing to finally embrace hemp technology once again. Industrial hemp provides a cleaner, lighter and stronger fabrication with substantial fuel economy and greener sustainability.