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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/24

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

discover new paying crops. Among the possible new rural industries that have attracted the attention of the agricultural class is that of fiber production, though the growth of certain kinds of fibers in past time has been a source of income to the country. Already there is a widespread interest in the subject throughout the West and South, and farmers are only seeking information regarding the particular practice involved in the cultivation of flax, ramie, and other fibers, cost of production, market, etc., but many are asking where the proper seed can be secured with which to make a start.

The importation of unmanufactured flax, hemp, textile grasses, and other fibers amounts annually to a sum ranging from fifteen million to twenty million dollars, while the imported manufactures of these fibers amount to almost double this value, or, in round numbers, approximately forty-five million dollars. With the establishment and extension of three or four fiber industries in this country, and with the new manufacturing enterprises that would grow out of such establishment and extension, an immense sum could be readily saved to the country, and the money representing the growth of these fibers would add just so much to the wealth of the farming class.

There are two ways in which we may arrive at a solution of this problem: by direct Government aid, and through the intelligently directed efforts of private enterprise.

Government experiments for the development or extension of vegetable fiber industries have been instituted, at different times, in many countries. In some instances these have been confined to testing the strength of native fibrous substances for comparison with similar tests of commercial fibers. Such were the almost exhaustive experiments of Roxburgh in India early in the present century. Another direction for Government experimentation has been the testing of machines to supersede costly hand labor in the preparation of the raw material for market, or in the development of chemical processes for the further preparation of the fibers for manufacture. The broadest field of experiment, however, has been the growth of the plants under different conditions, either to introduce their culture, or to economically develop the industries growing out of their culture, when such industries need to be fostered. The introduction of ramie culture is an example of the first instance, the fostering of the almost extinct flax industry of our grandfathers' days an illustration of the second.

The United States has conducted experiments or instituted inquiries in the fiber interest at various times in the last fifty years, but it is only since 1890 that an office of practical experiment and inquiry has been established by the United States Depart-