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Eli Whitney and the Effects of the Cotton Gin

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Eli Whitney and the effects of the cotton gin

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin on March 14, 1794. It was one of his great inventions. The cotton gin revolutionized the production of cotton throughout the south by speeding up the process of taking out the seeds from the cotton fiber. The cotton gin also gave an uptick in the use of slaves. Now more slaves were needed to work in the fields to keep up with the amount of production of cotton. This meant more acreage could be purchased and more cotton being produced. This was important for the slave states, which wanted the new states to be slave states rather than free states. The cotton gin almost doubled the the amount of cotton exported to Europe. The economy for the U.S. was much improved by this invention. The cotton gin helped America more than it hurt America, even though the cotton gin was one of the causes of going into a civil war.

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough Massachusetts on December 8, 1765 and died on January 8th 1825. (History.com staff) He was the oldest child of four, his parents were Elizabeth Fay and Eli Whitney. Elizabeth Fay died when Eli was just twelve years old. His dad was a farmer and also owned a farm store. Eli was very fascinated by mechanical things and using tools from a young age He was also able to take apart his father's watch and completely reassemble the delicate workings in perfect running order. He was constantly fixing and making things and, as news of his craftiness spread, he was often fixing things for neighbors and friends as well. (Cannon 1963). Whitney enrolled in Yale University in 1789 and graduated in 1792. When Whitney graduated he thought he would try a career in law but he still needed to study for that and didn’t have the funds. He then went to work as a tutor for the children at a South Carolina planter.

Eli Whitney was a great American inventor. He was also a noted manufacturer, craftsman, and pioneer. Many know him for his manufacturing of interchangeable gun parts. Whitney is often mis credited with inventing the interchangeable parts on a gun. Whitney promoted that as the maker of muskets. But Whitney's role in that was more promoting and popularizing, not inventing. Whitney’s most famous invention of course is the cotton gin. He created it in 1794. when he was twenty nine years of age. The invention of the cotton gin would later help many plantations produce cotton at much higher rates. But it would also lead to an increase in slavery in the south.

Cotton was not an important crop in the early colonial days, but it soon came to be very important. It was too difficult to make thread from the regular cotton fiber. But toward the end of the Revolutionary War, Sea Island cotton was grown along the southern coast. (Latham 2003) Sea Island cotton had a smooth seed that was easier to remove. Slave labor was needed to operate the southern plantations. And by this time, the slave population in the south had grown to half a million. this was also true for the amount of cotton plantations. It took a great deal of labor to plant, tend, and pick the cotton. Even more work was required to separate the seeds from the fibers and then to make the cotton fibers usable. Planters bought slaves to do the labor for them, and this led to a major rise in slaves in the south.

The cotton gin was created to make it much more easy to separate the seeds from the cotton. The cotton gin is a machine that separates cotton fibers from their seeds. It can be used by hand cranking it The word gin coming from the word “engine” (“Cotton a history”) It is a much more efficient way than having to do it manually. It was also a better way of preserving the cotton seed, which can be used to produce more cotton or produce cottonseed oil and cottonseed meal. This was the first mechanical way to remove the cotton seeds. The machines helped the slaves or workers working on the plantation but it mostly helped the owners. The production grew from about one pound per day to all the way to fifty pounds per day. The way to do it before the cotton gin was all by hand, it required much more time to get a good result. There was an alternative way to remove the seed from the cotton fibers mostly used in India and other countries since 500 A.D, they used wooden hand rollers.The wooden hand rollers just were not as effective as the cotton gin and weren’t even as efficient as doing it by hand (Romero).

Whitney planned on making a large profit. He wasn’t wrong to think that as it was one of the best inventions of his time. Whitney said to his father in a letter "One man and a horse will do more than fifty men with the old machines,". And he also wrote "Tis generally said by those who know anything about it, that I shall make a Fortune by it” (National Archives) These quotes are about how Whitney believes that his machine should make a great profit, and how highly he thinks of them. So Eli planned to patent his invention, doing this would give him the rights to his invention and make it his.

There were many problems with trying to patent the cotton gin, as a result Eli and his partner Phineas Miller would go with a different option. Phineas Miller and eli Whitney decided to produce and sell as much cotton gins as they could. They made them and then placed them in various places in the south and charged farmers a fee for using the gin. The fee was two fifths of the profit the farmers got in cotton itself.This is when things started to turn bad for Whitney and Miller. Farmers throughout the south negated to having to go to Whitney's gins where they had to go and pay a what they thought unreasonable high price. So the farmers began making their own copies of Whitney's cotton gin and claiming they were “new” and “different” inventions. Miller brought law suits against the creators of these pirated versions but because of a loophole in the writing of the 1793 patent act, they were unable to win any lawsuits. They had problems making a profit,Whitney and Miller agreed after a long while to license the gins at an affordable price. In 1802 South Carolina agreed to purchase Whitney's patent right

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