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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