Tuesday, January 08, 2019

First American Cotton Mill and Eli Whitney

On Dec. 20 there was mention of the anniversary of the first American cotton mill. What struck me at the time, though I'm just getting around to commenting, is the date: 1790. 

Why is the date significant?  Well, we all know there was no cotton industry before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which was in 1794. So what was Samuel Slater's factory spinning in 1790 and after, if no cotton was available?

The answer, of course, was cotton, and the point I'm trying to make is our mental picture of history is wrong.  In fact cotton was grown and de-seeded for centuries, in all continents except Antarctica.  The thing about cotton, as you can see if your aspirin bottle has a wad of cotton to suppress rattles, is it's light so a little goes a long way.  Try weighing the cotton clothes you're wearing now--they're light.  So if the elementary ginning tools in use before Whitney's invention could process a pound of cotton a day that would be sufficient for a lot of yarn and then weaving a fair amount of cloth.

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