While Eli Whitney is best remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, it is often forgotten that he was also the father of the mass production method.
Born in Westboro, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765, Eli Whitney showed unusual mechanical ability at an early age. In fact, Whitney's mechanical skills kept him employed making and fixing various machines and paid his way through Yale University. Upon his graduation in 1792, he traveled to Savannah, Georgia, where he planned to teach while studying law. (Mary Bellis) In Georgia Whitney met Phineas Miller, another Yale graduate close to his age who managed the plantation owned by the widow of the American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene (1742-1786). Catherine Littlefield Greene soon employed Whitney to attack several mechanical problems attendant to running a large plantation. Foremost among them was the slow and tedious work of removing the seeds from the short cotton grown in the Savannah area. Whitney quickly learned that Southern planters were in desperate need of a way to make the growing of cotton profitable. Long-staple cotton, which was easy to separate from its seeds, could be grown only along the coast. The one variety that grew inland had sticky green seeds that were time-consuming to pick out of the fluffy white cotton bolls. (The Cotton Gin) Stories of Whitney's invention of the cotton gin often attribute his invention to significant help from both Catherine Greene and the slaves who worked the plantation. The slaves used a simple comb like device to clean the cotton, and it is probable that Whitney simply mechanized this manual process. It is also maintained by some that Whitney was not the first to develop a cotton gin; gins of various designs had been in use in the British colonies from the seventeenth century, notably one designed by Joseph Eve (1760-1835) for use in the West Indies. Despite arguments about the origin and invention of the cotton gin, there is no question that...
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