In 1793, Eli Whitney invented a simple machine that changed America’s history: the cotton gin.
Whitney’s invention made growing cotton much more profitable. Cotton soon became the most important crop in America’s Southern states.
Eli Whitney was born in 1765 in Westboro, Massachusetts. He attended Yale College (now Yale University).
In 1792, Whitney traveled to the South. While in Georgia, Whitney designed and built a model for the cotton gin.
WHAT DID THE COTTON GIN DO?
Before the cotton gin, cottonseeds had to be picked from the cotton fibers by hand. This took a great deal of time. Whitney’s machine quickly separated the seeds from the fibers. In fact, Whitney’s cotton gin cleaned more cotton in one day than a person could clean by hand in a whole year!
THE COTTON GIN’S IMPACT
The invention of the cotton gin made cotton the most important crop of the American South. Millions of acres of cotton blanketed Southern fields. In turn, the boom in cotton tied millions of slave workers to the fields. They picked cotton for the cotton gins.
The price of cotton clothing fell. Cotton fabrics, such as calico and muslin, could easily be dyed in bright colors and patterns. Soon, everyone wanted to wear these fashionable cotton clothes. This prompted the growth of textile mills in New England and Great Britain. The mills demanded more and more raw cotton to turn into cloth.
DID WHITNEY GET RICH?
Eli Whitney made little money from his cotton gin. Whitney and a partner opened a factory in Connecticut to make cotton gins. But a fire prevented the company from making enough machines to fill the flood of orders.
Other factories soon began copying Whitney’s invention. Whitney had applied for a patent to protect his rights to his invention in 1794. But his patent was not enforced until 1807. Then in 1812, his request to renew his patent was denied.
WHAT ELSE DID WHITNEY DO?
In 1798, Whitney won a contract to provide 10,000 muskets for the American military. Whitney experimented with making standard parts he could use in different guns. He was one of the first manufacturers to do this. Whitney died in 1825.
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