Wednesday, October 28, 2009

1793: Whitney Applies for Cotton Gin Patent

"Oct. 28, 1793: Whitney’s Cotton Gin Patent Not Worth Much"
This Day in Tech (October 27, 2009)

"1793: Eli Whitney applies to patent his new invention: a machine that quickly separates cotton seeds from cotton fibers. The cotton gin was the little engine that could — and did — transform the economy of the South and change the course of American history.

"Young Whitney wanted to become a lawyer but first needed to pay off some debts after graduating from Yale College in 1792. He obtained work as a private tutor at a plantation in Georgia.

"Southern planters were having trouble with their tobacco crops: They were growing too much of it (driving prices down), and tobacco farming was exhausting the soil. Cotton looked like a good alternative. Right along the coast, planters could grow long-staple cotton, which has seeds that separate easily from the valuable fiber.

"Everywhere else, the only cotton they could grow was short-staple...."

Eli Whitney might have gotten rich as a result of his cotton gin, if he and his partner hadn't used the wrong business model.

The Wired article takes you through the invention of the cotton gin, Mr. Whitney's career, why it's called a cotton gin, and how Whitney finally cleaned up, financially.

Bottom line: a pretty good look at on of the 'milestone' inventions in American history. And, a look at the inventor and the culture he lived in.

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