Eli Whitney was an American inventor who gave the world a powerful machinery to produce heaps of cotton without much hassle, money and labor. His invention is called ‘cotton gin’, ‘gin’ being short for engine. It was a machine that was able to quickly and efficiently clean the cotton using coordination of hooks, wires and a rotating brush. Although Whitney belonged to a family of a farmer, he was always interested in machinery and science and when he was only 14 years old, during the time of Revolutionary War, he invented the nail manufacturing function, which was widely used for various purposes. It was when he went to Georgia and started reading law for Mrs. Greene at her farm; he realized that cotton farming remains backward due to the long amount of tedious work it involves. This inspired him to invent the machine that flourished Southern cotton farming. Not only this, another of his prominent work is his championing the milling machines which helped in manufacturing of the arms part by part, instead of manufacturing it in one piece.
Childhood & Early Life
Eli Whitney was born in Massachusetts to Eli Whitney, Sr. and Elizabeth. His father was a well-to-do famer. Though he grew up on a farm, but he was inclined towards machinery and technology from an early age.
Whitney’s mother died when he was 11 and his stepmother was against his further studies in a university. He started a nail manufacturing function during Revolutionary War and worked as a farmer and a school teacher to make money.
Whitney attended the Yale College and graduated in 1792, and worked hard to become a lawyer. After graduation, he started to tutor in South Carolina as he lacked funds to become a lawyer.
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The widow of the Revolutionary hero Gen. Nathanael Greene, Mrs. Greene invited Whitney to visit her Georgia plantation, Mulberry Grove and read law there. Her plantation was managed by her fianc� Phineas Miller, who was a Yale graduate.
Greene realized the lack of a money crop in the immediate area as the tobacco business was getting dilapidated. Although green-seed cotton was extensively obtainable, it took a lot of time and labor to extract the fiber.
Greene’s financial support helped Whitney to work through the winter to invent a machine that was able to quickly and efficiently clean the cotton using coordination of hooks, wires and a rotating brush.
When Whitney demonstrated his ‘cotton gin’ to his colleagues, they were stunned to witness the device that was able to clean a large amount to cotton in less than an hour. The machine received immediate response.
In 1794, Whitney along with Greene’s fianc� Miller patented the machine. They intended to install the gins throughout the South and charging farmers two-fifths of resulting profits. This is the reason why the machine started getting widely pirated.
As farmers created their own version of the cotton gin, Whitney got stuck in many legal battles and ultimately agreed to license it at reasonable prices. This helped Southern planters to reap big financial benefits.
As Whitney did not receive the expected compensation for the gin, he concentrated on the production of arms and the interchangeable-parts system. Since there was a danger of war with France, the government asked him to manufacture 10,000 rifles, in 1798.
He created milling machines that permitted the laborers to wedge metal by a pattern and produce one particular part of a weapon. When put together, each part, although created separately, became an operational model.
Realistically, he could not manufacture the promised number of rifles to the government on time and delivered it in 1809. Even with the delay, he got another order for 15,000 muskets, which he supplied in two years.
By 1840, Southern cotton production rose hugely from the preceding century - with more than a million bales of cotton being produced. More and more people were needed to harvest the crop which gave rise to the slave-holding culture.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1817, Whitney got married to Henrietta Edwards, granddaughter of the evangelist Jonathan Edwards, daughter of Pierpont Edwards, head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, which helped Whitney to move in Elite class.
He died in 1825 of prostate cancer in New Haven, Connecticut; he was 59 years old at the time. He was survived by his widow, Henrietta, and his four children.
During the period of his illness from cancer, Whitney invented several machinery to mechanically ease his pain.
There is a Yale University program for non-traditional students, named after this inventor - 'The Eli Whitney Students Program’.
He used his status as a Yale alumnus to build his arms business and clientele.