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Eli Whitney Invents the Cotton Gin


Eli Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts on December 8th, 1765 (1).He graduated from Yale in 1792 with the intention of becoming a lawyer (3). Upon meeting Catherine Greene, Whitney was confronted with a different kind of opportunity. He traveled to the south and resided on the Greene plantation. It was at this time that Catherine suggested to Eli that he come up with some kind of machine that would more effectively clean cotton bolls. Until this point in his life, Eli Whitney had never even seen a cotton boll (4).

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Cleaning cotton was a tedious and time consuming task (1). Because of this, hundreds of slaves were needed for each plantation. Although previous attempts were made at making a machine to clean cotton, these machines still required excess labor and were not at all efficient (5). Whitney sketched a cotton gin and had a working model within six months (4). His invention allowed the seeds to be removed mechanically from the cotton fibers.The cotton was fed through rollers, combing the seeds out of the cotton boll, leaving a smooth piece of useable cotton (2). The machine was eventually improved by being run by horse or waterpower, reducing human labor even more (4). Although Eli Whitney invented the device that improved the American economy, he was not given credit for it until he was finally able to patent it on March 14th, 1794 (3).There was also a problem with other people copying his design and selling it. When Whitney was finally given the credit he deserved, he was awarded great honor and wealth (4).

Eli WhitneyThe Cotton Gin has proved to be one of the most important technological advances of the 18th century.In the South, the cotton gin resulted in reducing labor 50 fold without putting anyone out of work (4). In the United States, the cotton industry experienced dramatic growth (2), allowing for increased trade with foreign countries and economical advance (4). Unfortunately the growth of the cotton industry into other parts of the country caused an increased need for slavery in America.


Picture #1:

Picture #2:


1. Eberius, Bill “Eli Whitney Biography” In “US History Interactive

2. Encarta, “Cotton Gin”. >2/29/00

3. Inventure Place, “Eli Whitney” In “National Inventors Hall of Fame         2/29/00

4. Green, Constance McL., Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology, (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1956).

5. Mirsky, Jeannette and Allan Nevins, The World of Eli Whitney, (New York, The Macmillan Company, 1952).

Edited by: Liz Dietz
Researched by: Cynthia Cheney
Written by: Stephanie Brand

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