We often view the twentieth century as the era of the most progressive time for technology, but often what are not often thought of are the astonishing advances of the century prior. The inventions of the nineteenth century seemed to bring the world out of the Dark Ages. With all the amazing advances in science and technology, it trumped any time before hand. Between the railroad, the telegraph, electric lighting, the photograph and the steam boat, the advances of this century were phenomenal.
But it seemed that simplest inventions of this time had the most profound effect on American Society ever. These were Eli Whitneys inventions of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts. Eli Whitney was considered “the father of American technology”. While these machines are pretty simplistic in nature, they ignited an extreme flux in slaves and helped fuel the American Civil War. Eli Whitney was a pioneer of his time. Whitney was born in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1765. Growing up, he was very innovative and built a nail forge at a young age.
Whitney graduated from Yale in 1792. Shortly after, he met a recently widowed Catherine Greene.
She invited Whitney to come live with her on her plantation in Georgia. There, Greene and her fiancee Phineas Miller challenged Whitney to build a machine to clean the seeds out of short-stapled cotton. He invented the cotton gin that winter. This invention sparked an era that led to a huge demand for slaves in America. Before Whitneys invention of the cotton gin, seeding through cotton was a pain-staking process that was quite labor intensive. It seems the cotton gin fell perfectly into place. Whitney and Miller went into partnership together trying to set up cotton gins all over the South.
Instead of producing gins and selling them, they wanted to set them up and process the cotton for the plantation owners at the cost of two-fifth of the cotton produced. Whitneys cotton gin was almost immediately duplicated and they had had a very hard time getting it patented. By the time Whitney was finally awarded a patent, it was too late and cotton gins had sprouted up all over the South. They had an extremely hard time turning a profit for this invention. Whitney once said “An invention can be so valuable to be worthless to the inventor”. Whitney could not have guessed the large impact his invention had on
American society. The most significant of these was the exponential growth in slavery. This single invention prolonged slavery another half a century. Before the cotton gin was invented, it looked as if slavery was going to die out. The price of buying, housing and feeding slaves was overweighing the worth of the labor they could get. The falling demand of tobacco was not creating enough funds to pay for slaves and the indigo grown along the Southern coast was losing value from the cheaper East Indies indigo. But once the cotton gin was introduced across the South, the need for slaves rose exponentially.
This really revitalized slavery. The number of slaves rose from 700,000 in 1790 to 3. 2 million in 1850. This made one in every three Southern a slave. Before the cotton gin, there were only six slave states. By the Civil War, there were fifteen. A single cotton gin could produce up to fifty-five pounds of cleaned cotton a day whereas before it required one man a days’ work to clean a single pound. With this fluffy, white gold being able to be processed at such a fast pace, plantation owners became land hungry almost overnight. Since they could buy such a large workforce, they needed more land to plant cotton.
Plantations exploded in size within years. Instead of having just a few acres of crops, plantations were growing hundreds and hundreds of acres of cotton. The amount of cotton produced in the south doubled each decade after 1800. Within just years, cotton had flourished and the Southern states had a new number one cash crop never seen before in such volume. All the inventions of this era seemed to help prolong slavery. Robert Fulton built the first Steam ship in 1807. This could carry the cotton produced in the South up the Mississippi river to the North.
In England, a power loom was invented by Edmund Cartwright that was a steam powered spinning loom that dramatically increased the speed cloth could be sowed. It was brought over to the Northern American textile mills and women replaced men as the weavers. This was really the first time women had jobs other than home life. All of these inventions seemed to work in unison to making the Souths economy completely cotton based. After Whitneys patent troubles, he moved on to start a new venture. Eli Whitney yet again made another world changing invention with interchangeable parts in 1798.
Interchangeable parts were popularized by weapons manufacturers. They could be used to manufacture rifles so you could take them apart and use them on other rifles. The Federal Government hired Whitney to build ten thousand muskets for the Army. Although it was still a rough conception, it was a very influential invention. Eli Whitney started the American system of manufactures and was the one who started the standardization of guns. Although he did not invent the factories that used unskilled workers and assembly lines, he advanced the idea and this was the start to the system we know as mass production today.
Interchangeable parts helped people reload and fix rifles at a much faster pace than ever imaginable before. If a man can reload his rifle much faster, it means the more bullets he can fire. This is a major factor of why the Civil War was so detrimental. By 1820, all Northern states had banned slavery. It was not the fact that they though it was unjust, but it was not needed. At this time, many immigrants were pouring into Northern harbors and going to work in factories.
There was actually a fear that northern immigrants had, that if slaves were free, they would all flock to the North and take their already underpaying jobs. This was where racism really started to begin in America. Whitney improved the technology for both the North and South but accidently turned them towards conflict and the eventual secession of the South. Sadly, the Civil War was never solely about abolishing slavery. South Carolina, the first to secede out of the Southern States, leaders were disgruntled about the constant bombardment of exploitation of the South.
They felt that the federal tariff set to raise prices on goods was to hurt the Southern economy. It was a thought that the Northern economy was getting wealthier off the cotton produced in the South, seeing how the tariff set was lowering the average income of a Southerner ten percent in the years before the war. King Cotton was the slogan used to get Southerners to support secession, meaning that the cotton produced in the South could be sold to England and France, closing down Northern mills and making the Southern Confederacy more economically prosperous.
Without the cotton gin ever being invented, it could be seen that slavery would have died out peacefully and the fight over cotton would have never been started in America. Both the cotton gin and interchangeable parts were two of the greatest inventions of the 1800s, but also two that turned American society down a dark road of violence. It could not been foreseen by Eli Whitney that his inventions would have been the cause of such controversy and bloodshed. He changed American society for the absolute worse but also helped make America a superpower in the world.
The cotton gin is dubbed as the invention that prevented the abolition of slavery and interchangeable parts as what made the civil war so destructive and gory. Eli Whitneys inventions shaped the forefront of how we live today. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. “Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin. ” National Archives and Records Administration. http://www. archives. gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/ (accessed April 25, 2013). [ 2 ]. Evans, Harold, Harold Evans, Gail Buckland, Gail Buckland, David Lefer, and David Lefer.
They made America: from the steam engine to the search engine: two centuries of innovators. New York: Little, Brown, 2004. p. 23 [ 3 ]. “Who Made America? | Innovators | Eli Whitney. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/whitney_hi. html (accessed April 25, 2013). [ 4 ]. Ibid. [ 5 ]. “Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin. ” National Archives and Records Administration. http://www. archives. gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent/ (accessed April 28, 2013). [ 6 ]. Ibid. [ 7 ]. Lakwete, Angela. Inventing the cotton gin: machine and myth in antebellum America.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. p. 78-79 [ 8 ]. “Who Made America? | Innovators | Eli Whitney. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/whitney_hi. html (accessed April 25, 2013). [ 9 ]. Lakwete, Angela. Inventing the cotton gin: p. 83 [ 10 ]. “Who Made America? | Innovators | Eli Whitney. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/whitney_hi. html (accessed April 25, 2013). [ 11 ]. Evans, Harold, Buckland, Gail, They Made America: p. 56 [ 12 ]. Ibid. [ 13 ].
Green, Constance McLaughlin. Eli Whitney and the birth of American technology. [1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1956. p. 35 [ 14 ]. Latham, Jean Lee, and Fritz Kredel. The story of Eli Whitney: invention and progress in the young nation. Littleon, CO: Sonlight Curriculum, 2000. P. 121 [ 15 ]. “Who Made America? | Innovators | Eli Whitney. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/whitney_hi. html (accessed April 25, 2013). [ 16 ]. Thomas, Emory M.. The Confederate nation, 1861-1865. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Cite this The Cotton Revolution in America
The Cotton Revolution in America. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-cotton-revolution-in-america/