The Ford Made of Hemp
by Curt Guyette    
Entered into the database on Saturday, October 01st, 2005 @ 21:22:39 MST


Untitled Document

excerpt from:
Grown to drive ~ Metal, plastic, glass... and plants?
What kind of cars are they building?

What some might call the car of the future has already made its big debut. The unveiling came in Dearborn — more than 50 years ago. David Morris, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, described the event in a recent issue of his organization’s newsletter:

"On August 14, 1941, at the 15th Annual Dearborn Michigan Homecoming Day celebration, Henry Ford unveiled his biological car. Seventy percent of the body of the cream-colored automobile consisted of a mat of long and short fibers from field straw, cotton linters, hemp, flax, ramie and slash pine. The other 30 percent consisted of a filler of soymeal and a liquid bioresin.

"The timing gears, horn buttons, gearshift knobs, door handles and accelerator pedals were derived from soybeans. The tires were made from goldenrods bred by Ford’s close friend Thomas Edison. The gas tank contained a blend: about 85 percent gasoline and about 15 percent corn-derived ethanol."

To prove the vehicle’s superiority, Ford demonstrated the strength of the car body by smashing an ax against the trunk, only to have it bounce off. For some it remains a landmark event.

"That’s one of my favorite pictures," says Richard Wool, who is at the vanguard of an emerging industry that’s rediscovering what Ford thought to be a better way of making cars. Following in Ford’s track, Wool is developing adhesive bioresins from soy oil at the University of Delaware.

"To Henry Ford," wrote Morris, "the vegetable car was the perfect vehicle for driving the American farmer out of a 20-year economic depression. But after World War II, the maturation of the petrochemical industry and the export-driven revival of American agriculture seemed to relegate the idea of a biological car to the dustbins of history. Fifty years later, at the twilight of the 20th century, Ford’s dreams are again attracting attention. Working independently, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are finding more and more ways to incorporate vegetable-derived products into your standard car."

Popular Mechanics, December, 1941

Over in England it's saccharine for sugar; on the continent it's charcoal "gasogenes" in the rumble seat instead of gasoline in the tank. Here in America there's plenty of sugar, plenty of gasoline. Yet there's an industrial revolution in progress just the same, a revolution in materials that will affect every home. After twelve years of research, the Ford Motor Company has completed an experimental automobile with a plastic body. Although its design takes advantage of the properties of plastics, the streamline car does not differ greatly in appearance from its steel counterpart.

The only steel in the hand-made body is found in the tubular welded frame on which are mounted 14 plastic panels, 3/16 inch thick. Composed of a mixture of farm crops and synthetic chemicals, the plastic is reported to withstand a blow 10 times as great as steel without denting. Even the windows and windshield are of plastic. The total weight of the plastic car is about 2,000 pounds, compared with 3,000 pounds for a steel automobile of the same size. Although no hint has been given as to when plastic cars may go into production, the experimental model is pictured as a step toward materialization of Henry Ford's belief that some day he would "grow automobiles from the soil."

When Henry Ford recently unveiled his plastic car, result of 12 years of research, he gave the world a glimpse of the automobile of tomorrow, its tough panels molded under hydraulic pressure of 1,500 pounds per square inch from a recipe that calls for 70 percent ofcellulose fibers from wheat straw, hemp and sisal plus 30 percent resin binder. The only steel in the car is its tubular welded frame. The plastic car weighs a ton, 1,000 pounds lighter than a comparable steel car. Manufacturers are already taking a low-priced plastic car to test the public's taste by 1943.