Winona Republican Herald, Dec 31, 1937
Two Hemp Processing Companies
Chempco has 40 on Payroll; 12 At Cannabis, Inc.
Good Future Development Bringing Increase in Jobs Seen.
Profitable Cash Crop for Winona Area Farmers to Result.
Two hemp processing companies brought to Winona in 1937 a
new industry here for which the promoters see a good future
development bringing an increase in jobs for Winona employees
and a new and profitable cash crop for Winona area farmers.
Chempco, Inc., operating in the big former Union Fibre
Company plant in the West End, has 40 employees on its payroll
and is romoving fiber here from raw hemp, much of it grown
locally. It is baling the fiber and selling it in carload. lots for fine
paper manufacture, while a great surplus of by-product woody
material is accumulating in every available storing place.
including outdoor bins, for later use.
Farmers in the vicinity of Altura, Minneiska, St. Charles, Dover
and Lewiston raised hemp on about 950 acres for this factory in
1937 and about 50 acres of hemp was grown in nearby Wisconsin.
The scale of operations at the Chempco plant is shown by carlot
movements of 350 carloads this year to and from the factory.
Operating on a smaller scale, with a crew of 12, is Cannabis,
Inc., in the former Winona Yarn MilIs factory at Wall and second
streets and this company has gone into spinning hemp fibre and
making out of it such finished articles as rugs, mops and cloth
used in upholstering furniture.
"We have begun the spinning of hemp yarn, something never
done before on any large scale." declared E. O. Witt of Winona.
who is assistant secretary and in charge of the plant under F. E.
Holten of Mankato.
Hemp Shipped Here
While the Chempco company gets its hemp raw in bales here
and threshes or decorticates it, the Cannabis company has the
fibre extracted at plants of an associated company at Mankato,
Blue Earth, Lake Lillian in southwestern Minnesota and shipped
At the Cannabis plant the hemp fibre is further machined and
processed chemically to fit for manufacturing into yarn and
cord, which later is made into rugs, various forms of cloth and
the majority of spun material into mops.
Some of the carded hemp is sold for stuffing for furniture,
and advantages claimed for all of the hemp-made goods are
that they wear better than wool, linen or cotton, will not
deteriorate in water and that hemp is moth and bug repellant.
This company also expects to contract for hemp to be grown
for it in this area next year, and will pay from $12 to $15 a ton
delivered at the factory without baling, said Mr. Witt.
Ground Into Flower
The Chempco plant produces more than a carload of hemp
fiber a day and more than three carloads of the woody material
called hemp hurds. The hurds are something like little pieces of
wood out of the center of the hemp stalk. The fiber forms the
other part or bark of the stalk.
This woody stuff is ground up into a "flour." This is not food
flour, but flour out of which can be made a wide variety of
Plastics, such as the hard material from which is made what is
commonly called the hard rubber telephone sets can be made
from this flour. The flour is cellulose acetate. It is mixed with a
synthetic rosin and baked to form the plastic. A good deal of
experimental work is being carried on with this flour and a big
market may be discovered for it, although regarding this de-
velopment the plant manager does not say much.
"Hemp," he said, "has been exploited by people who do not
know much about it, leading to disappointments, and I prefer not
to make any great claims of the possibilities."
Plan to Expand
Mr. Johnson does say, however, that Chempco plans to expand
when present market demand for hemp fiber is satisfied and the
company plans to go beyond the present raw material stage into
At the present time at the Chempco plant nothing more is be-
ing done than the making and selling of raw fiber for the
manufacture of paper.
Many additional things besides paper can be made of the fiber
and flour from the hemp by-product and one of the first things
likely to be manufactured here would be floor coverings and
This development at the Chempco plant, said Mr. Johnson,
"will come just as soon as we establish a surplus production
over and above our present market requirements."
Until recently the cellulose used in manufacture of plastics
has been obtained from wood and sawdust.
Hemp has been raised for many years to get from it the tough
fiber used for twine and the cordage used for caulking in ship
Makes Fine Paper.
Lately it has been discovered that some of the finest grades
of paper can be made from hemp fiber. The idea of new raw
material to use instead of worked-over old rags and. paper has
appealed to manufacturers, for they are assured of a supply of
raw material and continuous production.
Several years of experimental work were required to
determine a basis on which the hemp crop could be raised
profitably by farmers, but in every case where farmers have
tried hemp raising with intelligent effort, according to Mr.
Johnson of the Chempco plant, the farmers have been
enthusiastic about the crop.
Hemp is a good weed killer, and fits well into a farmer's crop
program, he states. It requires no cultivation in the growing
season and is a fairly dependable crop.The average net profit to
the farmers raising hemp per acre in Minnesota in 1937 was
about $20 a ton.
Some of the hemp grown .in the immediate vicinity of Winona
in 1937 was good and some not so good, he said. Special
harvesting machinery is not needed, and it is planted in the
spring from seed, either in a drill or broadcast.
Before it is brought into the factory it is baled, just as hay is
When shipped to the plant, the bulk of .the hemp is
The Chempco plant has accommodations for 10;000 tons of
raw material, enough to run the plant the year around.
This, roughly, is how the hemp stalks are made into paper
Wire on the bales is chopped as the bales start on a feeder
through the long line of machinery in the plant. Then the
loosening bale passes between rollers, an upper roller traveling
faster than a lower roller, to loosen the bale, which then passes
between cylinders in which are inset teeth which tear the bale
apart and spread it for its passage through a long oven in which
250 degrees heat and fast fanning air thoroughly dry the stalks.
A bale of hemp has passed through machinery in one long
building before it is out of the drying kilns.
Then it is blown through a long pipe to a hopper at the top of
another building, where the threshing of the hemp straw begins
to separate the woody portion of the stalk from the fiber.
Six Tons an Hour
The fiber and woody material, or hurd, having been separated
they are handled differently. The fiber is baled and shipped out
to paper manufacturers, and normally the hurd would be blown
to a grinding mill to be made at once into flour.
Because of a present failure of the grinding machinery to
function properly, this woody material, coming out of the
factory at the rate of about six tons an hour, quickly filled all
storage space, then was packed at excessive cost into 50,000
bags and finally had to be put into bales and then into open air
pits made out of these bales.
When the big hurd grinding mill is working properly, the
woody material now stored inside and outside the plant will be
pulverized for use in the manufacture of plastics, floor
covering, wall board and other products.
The main market up to the present time for this woody
material product is to make insulating material, but hemp hurd
is a new product, the plant manager said, "which will be going
into a lot of new fields."
It is in this proposed expansion into new fields that the
promise for an outstanding new industry for Winona lies.