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Feedback on Eli Whitney
By Mary L. Bushong
1 Have you ever wanted to invent something? When Eli Whitney was a young man, he found that he was good at inventing. Eli Whitney was born on December 8, 1765, in Westborough, Massachusetts. His father was a well-to-do farmer who also served as a justice of the peace. When Eli was 24, he began attending Yale College. He was expected to become a lawyer. But when he graduated in 1792, he was short on money. He decided to work for a while as a tutor, teaching young men skills they needed for college.
2 He traveled by boat to Savannah, Georgia, for a teaching job. On the way, he made friends with Catherine Greene, the widow of Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene. Mrs. Greene invited him to her plantation. There he became good friends with her plantation manager, Phineas Miller.
3 The plantation owners longed for some crop that would bring in a good income. Tobacco was on the decline. It depleted the soil and left it infertile after only a few seasons. Other crops, such as rice, wheat, corn, or indigo, were just not very profitable. However, there was a great market for cotton. The cotton mills in England were hungry for more cotton than they could get. The problem was that the only profitable variety of cotton in the United States, the black-seed, long-staple variety, would grow only in coastal areas. This severely limited the amount of cotton that could be grown. The other variety of cotton, the green-seed, short-staple variety, could be grown elsewhere, but it was hard to separate the seed from the cotton fibers. It took one person most of a day to separate just one pound of fibers. It seemed impossible to turn a profit on this variety of cotton.
4 Eli watched the hands of the slaves as they worked the seeds from the balls of cotton. Then he began working. A few days later, he had a prototype model of the cotton gin. It could separate fifty-five pounds in a day!
5 After the machine was demonstrated, planters decided to plant more short-staple cotton. Eli thought this would be his opportunity to finally get a good income for himself. He formed a partnership with Phineas Miller. They did not intend to sell gins. They planned to charge cotton growers to use their gin. They wanted two-fifths of the cotton crop of each farmer. Outrage over this high cost, plus the ease of building their own gins, led to many other people making cotton gins. They used Eli's ideas and made their own gins. They did this in spite of Whitney's patent, which gave him and his partner, Miller, the only rights to the invention.
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