Invention of the Cotton Gin Historical Marker
This historic marker was dedicated in 1986 and commemorates the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1794. This invention reduced the need to remove seeds from cotton by hand—a time-consuming process that had precluded cotton from being produced on a large scale. Cotton gins made the processing of cotton much more economical than other fibers, giving rise to the growth of cotton plantations in the American South in ways that fueled the increase of chattel slavery in the early 1800s. Prior to the rise of cotton production, many leading Americans believed that slavery would slowly decline and be entirely replaced by free labor. After the invention of the cotton gin, American planters and slaves produced a total amount of cotton that doubled each decade from 1800 to 1860.
Backstory and Context
The invention of the cotton gin spurred the growth of cotton production in the South and gave rise to the textile industry in the North. The invention had dire long-term consequences given its connection to slavery, but it also gave the United States an advantage in producing textiles at a time when Britain dominated the industry. As for Whitney, he did not make his fortune from his cotton gin but he did become rich after inventing a way to mass produce muskets.
Schur, Joan B. "Teaching With Documents: Eli Whitney's Patent for the Cotton Gin." National Archives. Accessed 7/23/16. https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/cotton-gin-patent.