Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Whitney's Gin

Before the introduction of the mechanical cotton gin, cotton required considerable effort to clean and separate the fibers from the seeds. With Eli Whitney’s introduction of “teeth” in his cotton gin to comb out the cotton and separate the seeds, cotton became a tremendously profitable business, creating many fortunes in the Antebellum South. New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston and Galveston became major shipping ports, deriving substantial economic benefit from cotton raised throughout the South. Additionally, the expanded supply of cotton created strong demand for textile machinery and improved machine designs that replaced wooden parts with metal. This led to the invention of many more machine tools in the early 19th century.

The invention of the cotton gin caused massive growth in the production of cotton in the United States, concentrated mostly in the South. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantations and slavery, with plantation agriculture becoming the largest sector of the Southern economy. While it took a single slave about ten hours to separate a single pound of fiber from the seeds, a team of two or three slaves using a cotton gin could produce around fifty pounds of cotton in just one day. The number of slaves rose in concert with the increase in cotton production, increasing from around 700,000 in 1790 to around 3.2 million in 1850. By 1860, the Southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to 80% of the crucial British market. The cotton gin thus “transformed cotton as a crop and the American South into the globe's first agricultural powerhouse, and – according to many historians – was the start of the Industrial Revolution".

Eli Whitney, cotton Gin Inventor
According to the Eli Whitney Museum website:

Whitney (who died in 1825) could not have foreseen the ways in which his invention would change society for the worse. The most significant of these was the growth of slavery. While it was true that the cotton gin reduced the labor of removing seeds, it did not reduce the need for slaves to grow and pick the cotton. In fact, the opposite occurred. Cotton growing became so profitable for the planters that it greatly increased their demand for both land and slave labor. In 1790 there were six slave states; in 1860 there were 15. From 1790 until Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, Southerners imported 80,000 Africans. By 1860 approximately one in three Southerners was a slave.

Due to its inadvertent effect on American slavery, the invention of the cotton gin is frequently cited as one of the ultimate causes of the American Civil War.

1 comment:

  1. Whitney may have invented it, but these days, I tend to use Beefeater...