1940 U. S. Postage stamp
1940 U. S. Postage stamp


Link also AP World History Key Concept 5.1


Biography icon for wiki.pngEli Whitney biography from Eli Whitney Museum

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.47.54 AM.pngClick here for cotton gin animation using Eli Whitney's patent diagram.

Slaves Using a Cotton Gin
Slaves Using a Cotton Gin





The Cotton Gin: The importance of this invention is difficult to overstate.

  • Before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, the cotton industry in the south was struggling.
    • Profit margins on cotton production were very small because the cost of harvesting the crop was so high.
      • Slavery was actually beginning to phase out in the south because of the diminishing cotton industry.

  • Eli Whitney saw that there was a high demand for a product that could make cotton profitable again.
    • His cotton gin reinvigorated cotton's profitability and helped usher in an era of mass production.[9] Plantations dramatically increased in size, slavery became fundamental to the booming cotton industry, and any opportunity for abolition in the south was lost.

  • Cotton was the staple cash crop for the Southern economy.
    • Prior to 1793 cotton production hovered around 150,000 pounds per year.
      • However, after the introduction of the cotton gin production soared to 6.5 million pounds in 1795 and increased from there.
        • By 1860 the Southern states were producing nearly two billion pounds of cotton per year and Northern textile mills were importing 100% of their cotton from the South.[8]

The cotton gin transformed the Southern economy, renewing and extending its reliance on slavery.
  • The cotton gin had this impact because it greatly increased the value of cotton plantations.
    • Prior to this invention, laborers had to pick cotton seeds from harvested cotton by hand. This labor-intensive process limited the scale on which cotton growing could be profitable.
Eli Whitney
Eli Whitney


  • Credit for inventing the Cotton Gin is given to Eli Whitney. Whitney applied for a patent in 1793 and was given one in 1794.
    • There is also some controversy and claims that Catherine Littlefield Greene gave Whitney the initial idea, however there has yet to be discovery of substantial evidence to verify this claim.

The cotton gin mechanized the removal of seeds, allowing laborers to prepare massive cotton harvests with relatively little difficulty.
  • The cotton gin made it profitable to run massive cotton plantations, creating a growing demand for slave labor.
    • Prior to the invention of Whitney's cotton gin there had been roughly 700,000 slaves
    • By 1850 the slave population had reached almost 3.2 million
Multimedia.pngClick here for a short video on the invention of the Cotton Gin.

primary_sources.PNG Eli Whitney's Jr. Letter to his Father this is regarding his invention of the cotton gin (September 11, 1793)

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngFor a lesson plan, see Eli Whitney's Patent for the Cotton Gin.

Multimedia.pngWatch an animated TED talk on the cotton gin, here.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngLesson Plan and other resources for an Introduction, here.


For more see United States History I.29