The Effects of Eli Whitney on America

1 January 2017

Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin helped bring prosperity to the South, expand slavery, and lead to a civil war. Eli also is credited for popularizing the idea of mass production and interchangeable parts. All of Eli Whitney’s ideas changed the entire country and played a significant role in the history. Eli Whitney was born in Massachusetts in 1765. Eli worked in his father’s nail shop as a teenager. Eli Whitney attended Yale College and graduated in 1792.

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Eli after college ended up in Georgia on Mrs. Greene’s plantation. Mrs. Greene had offered Eli the opportunity to read law while helping on the plantation. While on the plantation Whitney soon realized the need for a faster way to pick cotton. Whitney came up with the cotton gin in 1793. The cotton “gin” (gin short for engine) was a simple automated machine that separated cotton seeds from cotton fiber. The cotton gin was made of wooden cylinders surrounded by spikes that pulled the cotton threw combing out the seeds.

This giant mechanical comb-like machine was capable of collecting up to fifty pounds of cotton a day. The task for removing cotton prior to the Cotton Gin was a full day of hard work. Slaves would have to use their hand to remove and clean each individual seed from the cotton. This process used a considerable amount of labor and was a slow process. Whitney’s invention could do this task up to ten times faster than a slave. Whitney applied for the patent to his great product in late 1793 but was not granted it until early 1794.

This delay would cause Eli Whitney to have trouble proving it was his original idea. The cotton gin was easily imitated by others due to its simplicity. Eli spent the money he earned from his cotton gin on legal fees and was not awarded the patent exclusively until years later. In the later 1700s the Southern States economy was agriculturally based. They used different “cash crops” such as: rice, tobacco, and cotton to make a profit. The effects of the cotton gin caused cotton to become the South’s main cash crop. The Southern States economy was tremendously boosted.

In 1830 there were 750,000 bales of cotton produced. In 1850 the number of bales rose to 2. 85 million bales due to the cotton gin. Many people believed the cotton gin would cause a reduction in slave labor. The cotton gin had the opposite effect and planters wanted to increase the amount of cotton planted and picked which required more slaves. In 1850 there were 3. 2 million slaves which was a dramatic increase from in 1790 when there were around 700,000. By 1860 the “King Cotton” harvested in the South made up two -thirds of the world’s cotton production.

The invention of the cotton gin not only caused Southern States to rely even more on agricultural products but also expanded slavery. Slavery was already the sectional difference between the North and South. This great expansion of slavery is what led to the American Civil War. In the late eighteenth century Eli Whitney was extremely low on money due to his cotton gin invention. Due to the simplicity of his cotton gin, Whitney’s design was easily imitated. Whitney had tried to patent his product but he failed and lost all his money in legal fees.

Being almost bankrupt Whitney accepted a weapons contract from the United States War Department in 1798. There had been a war scare with France and the U. S. realized the need for weapons and started contracting. Eli Whitney was to make 10,000 to 15,000 muskets by 1800. He had never made a musket in his life. Whitney learned the trade and began manufacturing. Whitney was supposed to deliver the arms in one year but it took him eight years. Eli used countless excuses and charades to buy more time with the government. Whitney used the idea of interchangeable parts with his muskets.

He amazed the government with his interchangeable parts idea. He did not create the idea although he is often credited with it. Whitney did play an important role in popularizing mass production and interchangeable parts. This system of interchangeable parts played a big role in Northern States. The North was comprised of factories and manufacturing companies. Interchangeable parts made these factories more efficient and productive. This significantly helped boost the economy of Northern States for years to come and has impacted how we manufacture things to this day.

Eli Whitney passed away shortly after turning 59. Eli Whitney was an ingenious inventor who had a huge impact on our Nation’s history. Eli helped the South and their economy. Eli’s cotton gin led to an increase in slavery which later helped spark a civil war. Eli Whitney also changed the way the North with interchangeable parts. This technology gave the North the upper hand with better weaponry. Eli Whitney’s invention helped the South’s economy flourish but he also helped the North defeat the South in the American civil war he had a part in starting.

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