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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/32

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

deal more remains to be accomplished in bringing together the farmer and capitalist in the practical work of growing, retting, scutching, and preparing for market American flax fiber, for questions of culture are settled.

We should restore our hemp industry to its former proportions by producing high-grade instead of low-grade fiber. The growth of a grade of American hemp that will sell for six to eight cents per pound, instead of three to three and a half cents per pound, as at the present time, means that our farmers must follow more closely the careful practices of Europe, and especially that they must adopt water retting in place of the present practice of dew retting, which gives a fiber dark in color and uneven in quality. A careful consideration of the practices of Italy and France as set forth in Fiber Report No. 11, Department of Agriculture, will materially aid those who desire to change their product from the cheaper dark hemps, for which there is small demand, to the higher-priced light hemps, which will compete with the imported commodity.

One of the most interesting problems of the day in the utilization of the new fiber material, and one that is attracting the attention of all civilized countries, is the industrial production of that wonderful substance known in the Orient as China grass, in India as rhea, and in Europe and America as ramie. They money spent by governments and by private enterprise throughout the world, in experiments and inventions, in the effort to establish the ramie industry, would make up the total of a princely fortune. Obstacle after obstacle has been overcome in the years of persistent effort, and now we stand before the last barrier, baffled for the time, but still hopeful, and with efforts unrelaxed. The difficulty may be stated in a few words: ramie culture will only become a paying industry when an economically successful machine for stripping the fiber has been placed on the market. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent in efforts to perfect a machine, but no Government fiber expert in the world recognizes that we have such a machine at the present time, though great progress has been made in machine construction.

The world's interest in this fiber began in 1869, when a reward of five thousand pounds was offered by the Government of India for the best machine with which to decorticate the green stalks. The first exhibition and trial of machines took place in 1872, resulting in utter failure. The reward was again offered, and in 1879 a second official trial was held, at which ten machines competed, though none filled the requirements, and subsequently the offer was withdrawn. The immediate result was to stimulate invention in many countries, and from 1869 to the present time inventors have been untiring in their