BY BRENDA EDWARDS
A black man from Junction City made the news in 1924 after inventing, patenting, and building a hemp brake that could revolutionize the hemp industry, articles in The Kentucky Advocate show.
Churchill White was granted the patent for hemp fragments in the United States and Canada, and papers filed in Russia to patent the invention.
The information was also published in Volume 7 of the Negro Year Book, 1926-1927, an annual Encyclopedia of the Negro.
“It would be a strange thing if the descendant of an African slave perfected a mechanism that could demonstrate the means to restore the glory of what once shared the honor of tobacco as Kentucky’s premier crop,” said the lawyer.
More than 300 machines for breaking hemp have been patented. Records show that none of them were entirely satisfactory.
One was used for a time in Kentucky that was supposed to break and cleanse 8,000 pounds a day, but evidence of its failure is that it was abandoned.
Churchill White continued to put out his 150 pounds a day with his old wood break and still produced his hemp crop after others were in the tobacco fields.
“His disruption of power can replace the age-old method, but it will remove a painterly figure if it does.”
Churchill toured local communities and demonstrated his invention using the gas engine, which had a capacity of 2,000 pounds a day.
He fed the stalks into an opening on the side of the hemp curd, where they were occupied by two swords, one with an upward movement and the other with a downward movement. The separation of the fiber from the hemp stem was very thorough and less damaging to the lint than the old-fashioned hand break.
Kentucky’s hemp crop, which totaled 75,000 tons in 1859, declined to less than 5,000 tons, with Kentucky and California producing most of the American crop. Nothing had been found to match the Kentucky limestone soil for growing hemp.
“When the last century was a kid, growing and producing hemp was a thriving industry in this state.” Bale linen, as it was then called, hemp bags for cotton bales, were produced in sufficient quantities to supply the entire south.
“An attempt was made to use a canvas and a little fine linen. The protectionists were busy that early. They asked for an import duty on such goods or a premium on American manufacturers, but despite the fact that they did not receive it, the industry flourished for many years. “
Kentucky, which had 38 rope walks and 13 cotton packing mills in 1810, as well as line, fish line, calf line, and marine cable factories that consumed nearly 6,000 tons of hemp annually, was then able to produce enough hemp for the entire United States.
“If there was a reliable hemp breaker, Kentucky would be supplying enough for the nation today, but the majority of the fiber grown in Kentucky is still obtained from the old clumsy wooden slat breaks that have been used since the first cop cut.
“Before the grain landscapes of the West were cultivated, the Commonwealth was first in hemp production, at the same time in wheat, second in tobacco, corn, pigs, mules, third in flax and fourth in rye.
“During this time, American hemp was superior and in great demand for the rigging of ships. The government encouraged the growth and manufacture of qualities for the Navy whose windjammers were unsurpassed in number and performance.
“As steam gradually drove out sales and tobacco became the better cash crop, hemp production declined and Kentucky rose to the fore as the tobacco state.”
After McCormick’s reaper was invented, Kentucky made binder yarn for crop fields, but the Yucatan made yarn cheaper for American farmers as the industry dwindled.