ELI WHITNEY BIOGRAPHY
BIRTH: December 8, 1765
Westborough, Massachusetts, USA
DEATH: January 8, 1825 (aged 59)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Eli Whitney was an American inventor, engineer and manufacturer, famously known for his invention of the cotton gin. He created a machine which was used in removing seeds from cotton fiber. It was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
Eli Whitney was born on December 8, 1765, in Massachusetts to Eli Whitney, Sr. and Elizabeth. His father was a farmer who had an interest in mechanical work. Because of his father, Eli turned towards machinery and technology at an early age. Eli started to work while pursuing his studies to support his family. He used to build different devices. He helped his father on the farm and also worked as a school teacher to earn more money
After completing his high school education, he attended Yale College. In 1792, he graduated from college. Eli wanted to become a lawyer. However, he struggled financially and had to tutor in South Carolina. Fortunately, he got an invitation to stay with Catherine Greene in 1755. The lady wanted Eli to visit her plantation Mulberry Grove, in Georgia. It was the first time that Eli learned about cotton production. He realized that cotton farmers faced many difficulties in making a living.
At the time, farming the cotton crop was the primary source of income for people. It was easy to grow and could be stored for a long period of time. The main problem was separating the cotton seeds from the soft fiber. It took a lot of time and labor for this kind of work. The average person could remove the seeds from only about one pound of cotton per day, which was a very small amount. Greene shared the problem of the short staple cotton with Whitney.
Catherine Greene helped Whitney to build a machine that was able to quickly and efficiently clean the cotton plants, and a machine called the ‘cotton gin’, in which the word ‘gin’ stood for the word ‘engine’. His machine could clean up to 55 pounds of cotton daily. This helped massively in America’s economic development. The machine worked like a filter in which cotton was run through a wooden drum installed with a series of hooks that caught the fibers. Then the fibers were removed through a net, leaving the clean cotton behind.
Whitney presented his cotton gin to the common people. They were amazed to see that the machine could clean a large amount of cotton in less than an hour. People liked his device and wanted to utilize it for their own businesses. Whitney finally patented his invention in 1794. In just a few months, he started a cotton gin manufacturing company. He planned to install the cotton gins throughout the country
and charge farmers a small amount for each plantation. The farmers welcomed the invention, but they refused to share a percentage of their profits with Whitney. As a result, the farmers made their own cotton gins and Whitney’s invention was pirated. Many of them were an improved version of Whitney’s original model. He sadly couldn’t protect his invention from being pirated. The patent law at the time lacked in protecting the inventor’s rights. But, as more people started to use the cotton gin by the mid-
nineteenth century, cotton became America’s leading trade.
The piracy debacle did not deter Whitney and he continued to invent many more devices and machines. In 1798, he signed a contract with the US government to produce arms and weapons. He was asked to make 10,000 pieces of military equipment in two years to help the government in the war against France. But it eventually took Whitney around ten years to actually develop those many devices. After fulfilling the government’s demand, he soon received another order for 15,000 pieces of military equipment, which he managed to supply in two years. Whitney’s great contribution has led him to being called the ‘Father of American Technology’. He was recognized for inventing the first milling machine.
Whitney got married to Henrietta Edwards in 1817. The couple had four children. His wife belonged to high society, and it helped Whitney to progress to an elite class. Whitney died at the age of 59 in 1825 due to cancer, in New Haven.