Monday, December 21, 2015

Legalizing Weed: 5 Facts About Henry Ford's So-Called Hemp Car

By Andrea Miller

As the movement for legalizing weed grows in momentum, many advocates are expounding not only on the benefits of marijuana, but also on those of industrial hemp. 

This part of the cannabis sativa crop has an estimated 25,000 uses, including fuel, food, fabrics, and plastics. In fact, in 1941 — the heyday of industrial hemp in the U.S. — Henry Ford actually unveiled a prototype car made of hemp and other biological materials. 

Here are five interesting, true facts about the Ford “hemp car,” also frequently referred to as the “soybean car.”

1. The hemp panels making up the car’s body could withstand impact 10 times stronger than steel. According to a spread in Popular Mechanics at the time of the prototype’s release, the strength of the hemp-derived plastics used to build the car made it incredibly safe, much more so than other automobiles of the era, Collective Evolution reported.

2. The car was designed to run on hemp fuel. One of the many uses of industrial hemp is that it can be distilled into environmentally friendly, sustainable fuel. As early as the 1940s, the technology was in place to make cars that did not need to run on nonrenewable resources, such as oil and gasoline, but rather on plants, which could be cultivated as necessary.

3. The “hemp car” was much lighter than its steel counterparts. The original Popular Mechanics article noted that the hemp prototype weighed just 2,000 pounds, compared to 3,000 pounds for a traditional steel automobile. The only steel present in the prototype was the welded frame, onto which plastic hemp panels were fitted. This lighter weight had a vast impact on fuel efficiency.

4. The outbreak of World War II halted production of additional hemp cars. While Ford was working on a second prototype biological vehicle, auto production was suspended with the start of World War II. After the war ended, the nation was focused on recovery efforts, and the hemp car project fell through the cracks. However, automakers today are beginning to experiment with Ford’s methods in hopes of making the industry more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

5. Hemp was not the only crop present in this futuristic vehicle. A New York Times article about the technology used noted that in addition to hemp, the prototype also utilized corn, soy, cotton, and wheat, among other crops.

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