1793 – cotton gin

In 1793, Eli Whitney created an improved version of a mechanical device designed to separate cotton seeds from cotton fiber prior to processing the fiber into cotton thread and weaving the thread into cloth. Prior devices that served a similar function existed for over a thousand years but were not very efficient.

The term “gin” is a simple abbreviation for engine. The cotton gin involved a rotating cylinder with wire teeth that pulled the balls of cotton through the machine. A series of wooden slots or teeth combed the seeds out of the cotton balls as they were pulled through, separating the seeds from the cotton fiber. Manual labor could clean one pound of cotton per day, while the gin could clean fifty pounds per day.

The invention of the cotton gin had a dramatic effect on the cotton growing efforts in the southern United states. In the two years after the invention of the cotton gin, cotton production in the US grew from 180,000 pounds to 6 million pounds and fifteen years after that, reached 93 million pounds. This created great wealth among the plantation owners and increased the value of the slaves used to work the cotton fields and created a great demand for more slaves. The increase of slavery helped to fuel the growing tensions between the North and South that eventually erupted into the Civil War.

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