On August 28, Ed Chase sent his full report to Scripps and McRae. The younger man also was taken with the process: “I have seen a wonderful, yet simple, invention. I believe it will revolutionize many of the processes of feeding, clothing, and supplying other wants of mankind.”
Chase witnessed the decorticator produce seven tons of hemp hurds in two days. At full production, Schlichten anticipated each machine would produce five tons per day. Chase figured hemp could easily supply Scripps’ West Coast newspapers, with leftover pulp for side businesses. He estimated the newsprint would cost between $25 and $35 per ton, and proposed asking an East Coast paper mill to experiment for them.
McRae, however, seems to have gotten the message that his boss was no longer very interested in making paper from hemp. His response to Chase’s report is cautious: “Much will be determined as to the practicability by the cost of transportation, manufacture, etc., etc., which we cannot ascertain without due investigation.” Perhaps when his ideals met with the hard work of developing them, the semi-retired McRae backed off.
By September, Timken’s crop was producing one ton of fiber and four tons of hurds per acre, and he was trying to interest Scripps in opening a paper mill in San Diego. McRae and Chase traveled to Cleveland and spent two hours convincing Timken that, while hemp hurds were usable for other types of paper, they could not be made into newsprint cheaply enough. Perhaps the eastern mill at which they experimented wasn’t encouraging – after all, it was set up to make wood pulp paper.
By this time Timken, too, was hurt by the wartime economy. He expected to pay 54% income tax and was trying to borrow $2 million at 10% interest to retool for war machines. The man who a few weeks earlier could not wait to get to California no longer expected to go west at all that winter. He told McRae, “I think I will be too damn busy in this section of the country looking after business.”
The decorticator resurfaced in the 1930s, when it was touted as the machine that would make hemp a “Billion Dollar Crop” in articles in Mechanical Engineering and Popular Mechanics.* (Until the 1993 edition of The Emperor, the decorticator was believed to be a new discovery at that time.) Once again, the burgeoning hemp industry was halted, this time by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
• Ellen Komp
A fuller account of the story may be found in the Appendix.