Whitney, Cotton Jin
cotton gin revolutionized the way that cotton was processed, especially in the
South. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin produced
as much cotton per hour as 50 men. This
invention revolutionized the Southern part of the United States by increasing
processed cotton and allowing cotton to make up a large amount of the South’s
exports. The cotton gin changed the United States through its contribution to
the industrial revolution, slavery, and eventually the Civil War.
Whitney was born on December 8, 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts and had an
interest in invention even from a young age. As he grew up he started multiple
small businesses such as forging nails, making hatpins, and repairing clocks.
In 1789 when Whitney was 23, he went to Yale College where he graduated in
September of 1792. Upon graduation Whitney moved to a plantation in Georgia to
work as a tutor. Soon after
arriving on the plantation Whitney noticed a major flaw in the cotton
production process, he noticed that workers spent an extraordinary amount of
time removing the seeds from the cotton that was picked.
Cotton fibers are produced in the
seedpods (also called “bolls”) of the cotton plant where the fibers or lint in
the bolls are interwoven with seeds. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin,
workers had to hand remove the seeds from the cotton by holding the tuft in one
hand and pulling seeds out one-by-one with the other hand. Another way seeds
were removed prior to the gin was by using a set of rollers. The cotton was
placed between two rollers and pulled through. The idea behind this was that
the seeds would be too large to fit through the space between the rollers and
would fall to the bottom. Simple handheld rollers have been used particularly
in India and other cotton-producing countries since as early as 500 AD. A major
flaw with this process was that some seeds that were deeply seeded in the
cotton tuft would remain in the cotton and get crushed between the rollers and
become part of the fibers.
The type of cotton grown on the
plantation where Eli Whitney was staying was standard medium-staple cotton,
this has a staple length from about 1.3 to 3.3 cm and contains sticky green
seeds that are very time-consuming to pick out of a very fluffy white boll of
cotton. This is in contrast to long-staple cotton that is grown along the coast
and has long seeds that are easily separated. Upon seeing this dilemma, Whitney
immediately began working on a solution.
A few months later Whitney
eventually ended up with a machine that would automatically remove the seeds
from the cotton and output the final processed fibers. The cotton gin consisted
of a wooden cylinder surrounded by rows of slender spikes that pulled the lint
through the bars of a comb-link grid. This model was capable of cleaning 50
pounds of cotton lint per day. The gin could be powered by a hand crank or with
a horse or driven by waterpower.
Whitney showed the plantation owner his invention and immediately realized the
magnitude of the profit that was to be made from it. They devised a plan to
source the cotton gin’s ability rather than re-produce the gin to both increase
profit and to minimize the risk of someone stealing their idea while they
waited on securing a patent. Their charge was two fifths of the profit of the
cotton, paid to Whitney and the plantation owner in cotton itself. Soon farmers
in Georgia learned of this revolutionary machine but resented the fact that
they would have to pay to use Whitney’s gin and viewed the fee as an absurd
production tax. To avoid the fee many farmers created their own version of the
gin and claimed that these versions were new or different from the original gin
so as to avoid infringement. The gin was patented in 1794 but farmers still
found a loophole in the patent process that allowed them to make their own
cotton gins. Eventually Eli Whitney gave up on fighting the legal system over
ownership to the gin and lost many of the lawsuits he filed against farmers who
copied him. Whitney spent the rest of his days inventing things such as mass
production interchangeable rifle parts.
Whitney’s original cotton gin has evolved greatly in the past 223 years since
it was invented thanks to other aspects of technology. The modern automated
cotton gins use multiple powered cleaning cylinders and saws, and offer a much
higher productivity than the original. In facilities where cotton is produced
today, the cotton arrives at industrial –sized gins either in a trailer or in
compressed mules. Modules are compressed cotton blocks that can be covered and
temporarily stored, then later loaded onto trucks and transported. These
modules can weigh up to 10 metric tons each. The cotton that is arrived is
sucked in to the machine by a large pipe that is around 16 inched in diameter
and placed over the cotton that has just arrived. This pipe is usually manually
operated but due to increasing automation technology it can be operated via a
machine in modern cotton production facilities. The cotton then enters a dryer
that removes excess moisture. The cylinder cleaner uses approximately six or
seven rotating spiked cylinders to break up large clumps of cotton. Smaller
foreign material like leaves or dirt passes through a series of screens for
removal. These machines use centrifugal force to remove much larger foreign
matter like sticks. The gin then uses teeth of rotating saws to pull the cotton
through a number of “ginning ribs”, which then pull the fiber from the seeds.
These saws are similar to those in Whitney’s original gin just much larger in
size. After sorting, the cotton is compressed into bales for shipping or
storage. These modern gins can process up to 33,000 pounds of cotton per hour.
Whitney’s cotton gin should be landmarked because of the massive impact it had
on the fabric industry and American exports. After the invention of the cotton
gin, the yield of raw cotton doubled every decade after 1800. The demand for
the cotton was fueled by other inventions in the Industrial Revolution, such as
the machines used to spin and weave the cotton as well as the steamboats and
other transportation inventions that were used to ship it. By the middle of the
century, America was growing almost 75% of the world’s supply of cotton. The
majority of this supply was shipped from the South to New England or England
where it was eventually manufactured into cloth. Another aspect that made
cotton so profitable and in demand was that during this time tobacco prices
fell, the export of rice remained steady, and the sugar industry began to
thrive in Louisiana. During this time the South provided three fifths of
America’s exports with the majority of those exports being cotton. Another
huge impact that the cotton gin had on American society was the growth of
slavery. The cotton gin certainly reduced the labor needed for removing seeds
from the cotton, however it did not reduce the demand for labor to grow and
pick the cotton. Cotton production and growth became so profitable for
plantation owners that it increased the demand for slave labor and land. In
1970 prior to the invention of the cotton gin there were six slave states, by
1860 this number had more than doubled and there were 15 slave states. In the
span of 1790 to 1808 when Congress banned the importation of slaves from
Africa, the South imported nearly 80,000 Africans. To put this statistic in
perspective, by 1860 there were about one in three southerners who owned a
slave. The cotton gin changed not only the need for slaves but also
the work that they were required to do. The slaves in the South now worked on
even bigger plantations where the work to maintain the land and produce a
profit was even more relentless and disciplined. The increase in large
plantations in the South and mostly the Southwest coupled with the price of
slaves hindered the growth of urban areas. By the 1850s about seven-eighths of
immigrants to the United States settled in the North where there was almost
three quarters of the manufacturing capacity.
While this is definitely not a positive impact of the proposed landmark,
the growth of slavery from this invention could have aided in the recognition of
the horrible practice thus raising enough awareness for people to begin the
movement to abolish it. Many historians argue that this growth in slavery in
the United States particularly the South due to Eli Whitney’s invention of the
cotton gin was an inadvertent contributing factor to the outbreak of the
American Civil War.
Whitney Museum.” The Cotton Gin | The Eli Whitney Museum and
Workshop. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 22 Nov.
“Lesson Plan: Overview.”
The Impact of the Cotton Gin. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
“Related Topics.” Overview
Of A Cotton Gin : USDA ARS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin | National Archives.” National
Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records
Administration, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
David. “”King Cotton” in America.” The Cotton Gin:
A Turning Point in History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.