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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/37

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FIBER INDUSTRIES OF THE UNITED STATES.

established at Cocoanut Grove with special machinery sent down for the work. With this equipment, and with a fast-sailing yacht at the disposal of the special agent in charge of the experiments, a careful study of the Sisal hemp plant, its fiber, and the possibility of the industry was made, and the results were duly published. About this time the Bahaman Government became interested in the industry, and with shiploads of plants, both purchased and gathered without cost on the uninhabited Florida Keys, the Bahamans began the new industry by setting out extensive plantations on the different islands of the group. The high prices of 1890 having overstimulated production in Yucatan, two or three years later there was a tremendous fall in the market price of Sisal hemp, and Florida's interest in the new fiber subsided, though small plantations had been attempted. In the meantime, American invention having continued its efforts in the construction of cleaning devices, two successful machines for preparing the raw fiber have been produced which have, in a measure, superseded the clumsy raspadore hitherto universally employed for the purpose, and one of the obstacles to the production of the fiber in Florida is removed. The reaction toward better prices has already begun, and the future establishment of an American Sisal hemp industry in southern Florida is a possibility, though there are several practical questions yet to be settled.

Pineapple culture is already a flourishing industry in the Sisal hemp region. A pineapple plant matures but one apple in a season, and after the harvest of fruit the old leaves are of no further use to the plant, and may be removed. The leaves have the same structural system as the agaves—that is, they are composed of a cellular mass through which the fibers extend, and when the epidermis and pulpy matter are eliminated the residue is a soft, silklike filament, the value of which has long been recognized. Only fifty pounds of this fiber can be obtained from a ton of leaves, but, as the product would doubtless command double the price of Sisal hemp, its production would be profitable. How to secure this fiber cheaply is the problem. The Sisal hemp machines are too rough in action for so fine a fiber, and, at the rate of ten leaves to the pound, working up a ton of the material would mean the handling of over twenty thousand leaves to secure perhaps three dollars' worth of the commercial product. Were the fiber utilized in the arts, however, and its place established, it would compete in a measure with flax as a spinning fiber, for its filaments are divisible to the ten-thousandth of an inch. The substance has already been utilized to a slight extent in Eastern countries (being hand-prepared) in the manufacture of costly, filmy, cobweblike fabrics that will almost float in air.

Another possible fiber industry for Florida is the cultivation of