It is said that it was Greene who came up with the design of the machine and Whitney merely built it. Another version says that the revolving brush in the machine was a suggestion given by Greene, but she got no credit for it.
The invention of cotton gin truly revolutionized the cloth industry and heralded the true dawn of the industrial revolution. Cotton gin (short for cotton engine) is a machine that separates the husks of cotton fibers from its seeds.
Before the Cotton Gin
Before the year 1793, the process of separating cotton from the seeds was essentially done by hand and thus required a lot of labor. An average picker could remove the seeds of about a pound of short-staple cotton per day. Since it was labor-intensive and required so much time, cotton was not looked upon as a crash crop.
Tobacco and indigo were considered the cash crops of the South. However, cotton was a better crop to grow than either of these two, because it could grow just about anywhere, even when the land was drained of nutrients. But since it required so much time and effort, it was not considered feasible.
With the invention of the cotton gin, the method of harvesting cotton became much more convenient, because it did not require to carry out the back-breaking effort of separating the cotton from its seeds, hulls, and other impurities. Therefore, all those long hours of labor were eliminated and getting cotton as a raw material became easier and a lot faster. The direct result of which was that the production of cloth increased manifold as there were more amounts of cotton to be utilized.
The cotton gin was invented by an American called Eli Whitney in the year 1793. Eli liked to work in his father's workshop all through his childhood and adolescent years and showed great talent with machines and their mechanics. After completing his college, he headed south to a plantation in Georgia, owned by Catherine Greene. It was here that he learned about cotton production and the difficulty faced by the farmers to make a living.
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin with an intention of mechanizing the cleaning of cotton. Earlier, a cotton picker could separate about a pound of cotton per day, the machine could separate 50 pounds per day. Thus revolutionizing the cloth industry because as it led to tremendous increase in raw cotton production.
After cotton gin came into the picture, cotton soon became the leading export of America and with other inventions in the cloth industry, like the machines for spinning and weaving, along with improved standards of transportation, the cloth industry was truly revolutionized.
The earliest cotton gin has been traced back to first century AD. However, the cotton gin which was invented by Eli Whitney was essentially known as the saw gin.
The cotton gin consisted of a cylinder with teeth which revolved against a grated object. This made it possible for the seeds to get trapped inside the grate while the cotton was separated. The teeth which grated against the cotton, pulled the cotton fibers and separated them from the seeds. The trapped fibers were then removed from the teeth with the help of a revolving brush. The fibers were then collected and the raw cotton made ready for spinning and weaving.
The Patent and After
Whitney received a patent for his machine in 1794, and he and his business partner Phineas Miller decided to produce these machines in large numbers and sell them to the farmers. They charged ⅖th of the profit that the farmers earned, to be paid in cotton itself. Farmers, resented having to pay an exorbitant tax and soon started making machines of their own, claiming that they were new, made with new techniques in place. Whitney began filing cases against the farmers, but because of a loophole in the patent wordings, they won no case till 1800 when the law was finally changed. With hardly a few years left on the patent, Whitney and Miller decided to sell the machines at a subsidized rate. Thus, he hardly made any profit on his invention.
While the cotton gin led to a boom in the production of cotton, bringing great profit to America, it also changed society for the worse. Because labor was still required for the planting and harvesting of cotton, a large number of slaves were shipped to the Americas to fulfill this growing demand. Directly affecting a growth of slavery. While on one hand, abolition laws were being drawn, on the other, the invention offered the planters a justification to maintain and expand slavery.
- The cotton gin, it was said, carried out the work of a hundred men.
- Eli Whitney was a Yale pass out, who was to become a private tutor in south.
- Greene's plantation was called the Mulberry Grove. Greene was the widow of an American Revolutionary War general. Phineas Miller was her plantation manager who later became Whitney's business partner.
- Due to the machine, the production of cotton jumped to such heights that America was growing three-quarters of the world's cotton supply.
- Most of this was shipped to England where it was then converted into cloth.
- Since the cotton industry became a very lucrative industry, there were many lands that were converted into cotton fields.
- These lands were mostly in North America and therefore the industry began to grow in the North while the South got neglected.
- The demands for slaves increased so much that from 1790-1808, 80,000 Africans were imported as slaves.
These cotton gin facts, merely give us a glimpse into how far we have progressed since, how our industries have grown, and what we can look forward to. Cotton continues to be an important material in our society today, and the history of how it came to be revolutionized and the effects of the same are simply fascinating to read, to say the least.