How “King Cotton” was Crowned

Eli Whitney, in 1795, at the tender age of 27,

invented the cotton gin, the “gin” being slang for

“engine.” Little did he suspect that his simple machine,

designed and built in only ten days, would revolutionize

the entire soc1al and economic structure of the “southern

section of the United States.

The cotton gin separated balls of cotton from the seeds

contained inside. It made large quantities of cotton fiber

available to the spinning and weaving industry. Southern

farmers stopped growing other crops and switched over en masse

to cotton farming. The demand for slaves to work the cotton

fields burgeoned. Cotton production soared dramatically, as

did income and profits. Money flowed into the South as world-

w1de markets for the fiber grew. More and more countries were

us1ng more and more cotton.

Between 1801 and 1859, annual production rose from a

scant one hundred thousand bales, to a robust four and one-half

million bales! The southern economy became so dependent on

the crop that the people nicknamed the plant, “King Cotton.”

It transformed the American South into a politically and econ-

mically potent region, with strong influence and status nation-

ally and internationally.                                ‘

At one point in time, just before the Civ11 War of the

1860’s, the cotton industry grew so huge that it grossed

fifteen billion dollars, a massive amount in that era, and

employed a full eight percent of the total U.S. population!

Whitney’s uncomplicated machine had brought profound

results. It was the device by which King Cotton was crowned.


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