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Eli Whitney is the inventor of the cotton gin and changed the course of history in the southern United States, which helped many southern plantation owners through cotton crops, but it also increased the demand for slaves. Until the invention of cotton had to be cleaned with your fingers, it took a long time and was very expensive, so cotton fabrics were considered a luxury. Whitney's invention increased productivity hundreds of times, his device literally breathed new life into the plantations of the South. According to many historians, it is this invention that delayed for half a century the escalation of the abolition of slavery.
Whitney’s Biography and Invention
Eli Whitney was born on December 8, 1765, in Westborough, Massachusetts, in the family of Eli and Elizabeth Whitney, Eli enjoyed working in his father's studio, he was interested in tools and machines more than farming. He loved to find out how things worked: once he disassembled his father's valuable watch to see how it worked, and then he realized that he would have to collect it, otherwise he would get into big trouble, the watch worked great after that (“Eli Whitney”). Whitney’s background as well as his inventiveness would later allow him to create a machine that changed the textile industry in the United States.
After high school, Whitney attended Yale College where he studied mathematics, Greek, Latin, and philosophy, in 1792 he hoped to study law, but money was not enough, so he took a job as an educator in Georgia, where he met a woman named Mrs. Green, who was the widow of the hero of the War of Independence, General Nathaniel Green. She owned a large plantation called Mulberry Grove, they got married, and Whitney decided to quit his tutoring job and stay at Mulberry Grove. While in Mulberry Grove, Whitney learned about cotton production and found that most plantations could only grow a type of cotton called 'short-staple cotton', but staple cotton was difficult and expensive to clean because the seeds had to be removed by hand. For this reason, many plantation owners in the South stopped growing cotton (Bagley 17). Whitney, however, took the fact for a challenge as well as attempted to develop new ways cotton could be purified.
Whitney loved to build machines and solve problems, but he wanted to help clean the seeds of cotton and invented the machine he called cotton gin. 'Gin' is 'cotton gin' is an abbreviated version of the word 'engine'. He used wire mesh in combination with small hooks to stretch cotton fibers. The new machine was able to clean more cotton in a few hours than the number of workers per day (“Eli Whitney”). This would allow Whitney to acquire almost purified cotton that would eventually be used in the textile industry, making Whitney one of the most influential inventors of modernity.
With the help of his business partners, Whitney received a patent for his new invention, but people simply copied his new car, and he got nothing. He tried to fight them in court, but he ran out of money and did not get rich with his patent. Many plantation owners were able to make a lot of money by growing cotton using cotton gin, which had the unpredictable effect that more slaves were needed (Bagley 27). Over the next few years, slaves became even more important and valuable to plantation owners, so some historians point to the influence of the cotton gin on slavery as a possible cause of the civil war.
On March 14, 1797, the American Eli Whitney received a patent for the machine he had invented a year earlier to quickly and efficiently separate cotton fiber from seeds, husks, and other impurities. The principle of operation was as follows: hooks hooked fibers and pulled them through a fine wire mesh, freeing them from sticky debris. Although Whitney did not get rich on cotton gin, he still became famous and promoted the idea of replaceable parts for production. He received a contract from the government to make muskets and played an important role in promoting the idea of mass production.
"Eli Whitney". Biography, 2020, https://www.biography.com/inventor/eli-whitney.
Bagley, Katie. Eli Whitney: American Inventor. Bridgestone Books, 2003.
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