Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin

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  • Topic: Cotton, Cotton gin, Patent
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  • Published : September 23, 2006
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Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin
Eli Whitney :

Eli Whitney was the inventor of the cotton gin and a pioneer in the mass production of cotton. Whitney was born in Westboro , Massachusetts., on Dec. 8, 1765, and died on Jan. 8, 1825. He graduated from Yale College in 1792. By April 1793, Whitney had designed and constructed the cotton gin, a machine that automated the separation of cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fiber.

Eli Whitney's machine could produce up to 23 kg (50 lb) of cleaned cotton daily, making southern cotton a profitable crop for the first time, but Whitney failed to profit from his invention, imitations of his machine appeared, and his 1794 invention was not upheld until 1807.

Eli Whitney and his business partner, Phineas Miller, opted to produce as many cotton gins as possible, install them throughout Georgia and the South, and charge farmers a fee for doing the ginning for them. Their charge was two-fifths of the profit, paid to them in cotton itself. And here, all their troubles began. Farmers throughout Georgia resented having to go to Eli Whitney's cotton gins where they had to pay what they regarded as an exorbitant tax. Instead planters began making their own versions of Eli Whitney's gin and claiming they were "new" inventions. Miller brought costly suits against the owners of these pirated versions but because of a loophole in the wording of the 1793 patent act, they were unable to win any suits until 1800, when the law was changed.

Struggling to make a profit and mired in legal battles, the partners finally agreed to license gins at a reasonable price. In 1802, South Carolina agreed to purchase Eli Whitney's patent right for $50,000 but delayed in paying it. The partners also arranged to sell the patent rights to North Carolina and Tennessee. By the time even the Georgia courts recognized the wrongs done to Eli Whitney, only one year of his patent remained. In 1808 and again in 1812 he humbly petitioned Congress for a...
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