October 28: Cotton Engine

On 28 October 1793, American inventor Eli Whitney applied for a patent for the first modern cotton gin. The cotton gin–short for “Cotton Engine”–was a machine that pulled the fibers out of picked cotton, leaving just the cotton seeds. Cotton fibers were used to make clothing, flags, et cetera. Whitney’s machine was helpful because, without it, people would have to hand pick the seeds out of the cotton balls which was time consuming. Many people have invented such cotton machines, but none were as efficient and useful as Whitney’s.

This invention would eventually change America for the worse and play a role in the civil war. But before it did that, it boosted America’s slow economy. The cotton gin allowed the creation of many textile factories and shipping points to ship cotton products all over the world and of course across the country.

The negative would slowly build up in the South. The Southern states supplied two-thirds of the world’s cotton; allowing those states to have one cash crop and become richer. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850; while slave count rose in the south to 3.3 million by 1850.

All this led to the South rebelling in fear of losing the millions of slaves who were the driving force of their profits and the entire southern economy. That is why this cotton gin was a major cause in the factors that led to the Civil War, and an important part of world history as well as American history.

–Adam Rababeh

Photo Caption: Cotton Engine developed by Eli Whitney. (top) “First Cotton Gin” from Harper’s Weekly, 18 December 1869. This is a rolling gin; not the Whitney gin. (bottom)


Meet the Author: Adam Rababeh

I am 18 years old and this is my sophomore year at Schoolcraft College. I plan to transfer to Michigan State University by next fall in pursuit of a Bachelors and Masters degree in world politics; possibly even a Ph.D. My interests include politics, history, football, and soccer. I enjoy hanging out with friends and just enjoying life whenever I have time between work, school, and my family.

6 Responses

  1. Haley Hilt says:

    Even though cotton was the leading export for America at the time, slavery became the key factor of tension between the North and South. The South political economy only relied on cotton and slavery. Do to the possible movement to the west for cotton; the North feared that the expansion would raise the rate of slavery. Tensions between the North and South, made the North fear that expanding west those new states would join the Union. The South states thought that slavery was a great way to produce the production and the North feared that the country would expand slavery through the whole nation.

    After the Civil War during the 1930’s, the expansion for cotton moved into Texas and California. Even though this only lasted a short time, most cotton farmers left their farmers in the Northeast and moved back to the old cotton mills in the South. Even though the United States has the biggest importation of foreign textiles, but it is still interesting to see where the United States came to be with cotton farming.

    Haley Hilt

  2. Courtney Kihn says:

    Just as slaves were existent in this era, they were also put to use in the Roman Empire. Slaves were reserved for the rich. One practice that they were put to use for was home heating. The Romans were very advanced in their technological knowledge. Home heating was made possible by centralized or underground furnaces. During the winter months, slaves tended to these furnaces at all times. The poor relied on fires that they stoked on their own. Among the other many inventions credited to the Romans are aqueducts, indoor plumbing, and concrete roads.

    • jtaylor says:

      The Romans were extremely innovative and advanced for their time. The months of the year are also credited to the romans. December used to be the 10th month. It’s name comes from the Latin term, “Decimus” meaning tenth. I’ve also found that the system of roman numerals came about because of their ability to be expressed with fingers.

  3. Rachael Reister says:

    A few years after Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, Thomas Jefferson took a stab at modern technology creating the wheel cypher in 1795. Just two years after the cotton gin was created, the wheel cypher was made for the purpose of writing messages in a code context. The invention was a set of circular wheels on a stand to keep them all align and intact. The wheels could be taken off the axle and place in the appropriate order according to the message. This invention by Thomas Jefferson did not take off as quickly as the cotton gin, becoming popular nearly a 100 years later. Although it wasn’t used as commonly, it was still used and these and other inventions helped to accommodate those living in early American and made their lives easier.

  4. Julianne Ayers says:

    Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765, the eldest child of Eli Whitney Sr., a farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Fay of Westborough. As a child, Whitney’s stepmother opposed of him wanting to attend school, so Whitney worked as a farm hand until he saved enough money to enter Yale. After leaving Yale, Eli’s path had weaved back and forth, until he found his nitch in Georgia. His invention of the cotton engine made cotton into a profitable crop and then in turn our economic foundation of slavery in the United States increased.

    – Julianne Ayers

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