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American History
3.9 Cotton Gin

While Eli was at Savannah he made an improved embroidery frame for Mrs. Greene. It was much better than the old one. She admired the work of the young man. Not long after this, a number of cotton-planters were at Mrs. Greene's house. In speaking about raising cotton they said that the man who could invent a machine for stripping off the cotton seeds from the plant would make his fortune. For what is called raw cotton or cotton wool, as it grows in the field, has a great number of little green seeds clinging to it. Before the cotton wool can be spun into thread and woven into cloth, those seeds must be pulled off. At that time the planters set the negroes to do this. When they had finished their day's labor of gathering the cotton in the cotton field, the men, women, and children would sit down and pick off the seeds, which stick so tight that getting them off is no easy task. After the planters had talked awhile about this work, Mrs. Greene said, "If you want a machine to do it, you should apply to my young friend, Mr. Whitney; he can make anything." "But," said Mr. Whitney, "I have never seen a cotton plant or a cotton seed in my life"; for it was not the time of year then to see it growing in the fields.

After the planters had gone, Eli Whitney went to Savannah and hunted about until he found, in some store or warehouse, a little cotton wool with the seeds left on it. He took this back with him and set to work to make a machine which would strip off the seeds. He said to himself, If I fasten some upright pieces of wire in a board, and have the wires set very close together, like the teeth of a comb, and then pull the cotton wool through the wires with my fingers, the seeds, being too large to come through, will be torn off and left behind. He tried it, and found that the cotton wool came through without any seeds on it. Now, said he, if I should make a wheel, and cover it with short steel teeth, shaped like hooks, those teeth would pull the cotton wool through the wires better than my fingers do, and very much faster. He made such a wheel; it was turned by a crank; it did the work perfectly; so, in the year 1793, he had invented the machine the planters wanted. Before that time it used to take one negro all day to clean a single pound of cotton of its seeds by picking them off one by one; now, Eli Whitney's cotton-gin (a shortened form of the word engine, meaning any kind of a machine.), as he called his machine, would clean a thousand pounds in a day.

To-day nothing is much cheaper than common cotton cloth. You can buy it for ten or twelve cents a yard, but before Whitney invented his cotton-gin it sold for a dollar and a half a yard. A hundred years ago the planters at the south raised very little cotton, for few people could afford to wear it; but after this wonderful machine was made, the planters kept making their fields bigger and bigger. At last they raised so much more of this plant than of anything else, that they said, "Cotton is king." It was Eli Whitney who built the throne for that king; and although he did not make a fortune by his machine, yet he received a good deal of money for the use of it in some of the southern states.

Later, Mr. Whitney built a gun-factory near New Haven, Connecticut, at a place now called Whitneyville; at that factory he made thousands of the muskets which we used in our second war with England in 1812. In the war of 1812 the British war-ships attacked Fort McHenry, one of the defences of Baltimore. Francis Scott Key, a native of Maryland, who was then detained on board a British man-of-war, anxiously watched the battle during the night; before dawn the firing ceased. Key had no means of telling whether the British had taken the fort until the sun rose; then, to his joy, he saw the American flag still floating triumphantly above the fort—that meant that the British had failed in their attack, and Key, in his delight, hastily wrote the song of the Star Spangled Banner on the back of a letter which he had in his pocket. The song was at once printed, and in a few weeks it was known and sung from one end of the United States to the other.

Directions: Answer the following multiple choice questions. Also, answer the following questions on a sheet of paper:
  1. How did Gin separate cotton from cotton seeds?
  2. Write short notes on Muskets.

Q 1: Which turned the Cotton Gin?
A river.
A crank.
A waterfall.

Q 2: Where did Eli build his gun factory?
He built his gun factory near New Haven.
He built his gun factory near New Jersey.
He built his gun factory near New York.

Q 3: Why was Cotton called a King on those days?
As it helped the cultivators to make huge fortune.
As it was very rare.
As it was very costly.

Q 4: What was manufactured by Eli in the gun factory?

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Question 6: This question is available to subscribers only!

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