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Updated by Joey Lowe on Apr 20, 2016
Headline for Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin
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Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin

Eli Whitney's cotton gin invention had a tremendous impact on the textile industry and may have been a contributing factor to the Civil War

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#PrimarySource ** The Chicago Defender (National Edition) 1921-1967 **Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin Stopped Negro Education For Fifty Years is an opinion article written by Arthur Barnett claiming that had Whitney not invented the cotton gin, the Civil War may not have occurred and there would have been no Emancipation Proclamation because slavery was slowly being abolished already. But when southern plantation owners realized that cotton could be a profitable product, they required many slaves to pick cotton.

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Secondary Source A brief article in the New York State Mechanic periodical written in 1841 calling Eli Whitney and his cotton gin the most important invention of all time and specifically saying that this machine may have made cotton the greatest staple of the earth. It's cited as a labor saving device but makes no mention of how slaves were still needed to pick the cotton.

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Primary Source The Analectic Magazine (1813-1820) was a periodical magazine of the time. This particular source mentions how the North American cotton crop variety was hardly worth messing with until Whitney's invention because of the difficulty of separation of seed and lint. After the invention, cotton became the principal object of both South Carolina and Georgia. As example in 1795, scarcely one pound had been exported but by 1807 more than 55 million pounds was exported. It also mentions how because of the machine, many thousands of people were employed and cotton has much wealth and resources to the nation.

Civil War Trust Website Login

Secondary SourceWith the advent of profitable mass cotton farming, the South became economically dependent on slavery. When the South perceived a threat to slavery, it seceded. More at Just a quick blog article outside of the University databases that shows a connection to slavery, Civil War and the cotton gin as the root cause.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Secondary SourceThe Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, displays four murals painted by George Beattie in 1956 and removed from the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s building in Atlanta in 2011. The four oil paintings on Masonite, on exhibition from Aug. 1, 2012, to Jan. 7, 2013, address the state’s history of agriculture and feature American Indians, the founding of Georgia, and the role of enslaved persons in sugar and cotton production.

Oil painting showing the use of slave labor to pick cotton and to operate the cotton gin while plantation owners or buyers examine the quality of the cotton lint

Cotton Gins...the machine invented by Eli Whitney, for ginning cotton, politely sent to us from the U.S. Patent Office

Secondary source This is a copy of the patent of the cotton gin sent to the American Farmer Periodical by the US Patent Office in 1821 showing what it was and how it worked. There are some notes about the effect it had on the textile industry

Thomas Jefferson to Eli Whitney, November 16, 1793

Primary Source Handwritten letter from Thomas Jefferson to Eli Whitney inquiring to the effectiveness of the cotton gin and the final product. President Jefferson explicitly asks to have one sent to his plantation in Virginia.


Secondary SourceEli Whitney & the Invention of the Cotton Gin from Great Inventors and Their Inventions by Frank P. Bachman Blog on children's stories of history. Has a great basic explanation of the history of cotton in North America. I especially like the drawings depicting each stage in history associated with separating cotton from seed.