In 1734, Georgia was the first of the original thirteen Colonies to intentionally
cultivate cotton.  By 1793, approximately 180,000 pounds of cotton were being harvested in the U.S.  A mere 24 months later, the harvest had more than tripled to over 6,000,000 pounds. By1810, the harvesting of cotton had grown to an astounding 93,000,000 pounds. 

       The reason for this dramatic spiral in production?

       An ingenious man and his invention. The “Churka” had been invented in India 3,500 years earlier and was quite efficient at ginning long staple cotton, but nothing before this mechanical marvel was effective on the short staple variety.

       The machine he invented that was the first to clean short staple cotton.

       From an early age, Eli Whitney had an avid interest in and an instinctive understanding of mechanical things. Left with rather strapped finances after graduating from Yale, and needing to pay off his debtors, a young Eli accepted a private tutoring position on a plantation in Georgia owned by a Mrs. Catharine Greene.  Still retaining his keen interest in mechanics, he took to heart the significance and seriousness of the burgeoning difficulties in cotton production presented him by local planters. Even laboring under the best of circumstances at the painstaking chore of picking the seeds from the cotton, all their workers could manage to clean was one pound of crop a day. With his considerable knowledge and skill, Eli tackled head-on the task of finding a workable solution to the growers’ woes.

     The basic design was a cylinder, through which the cotton was fed, with wire teeth.
The raw field cotton could be fed through the cylinder and as it spun round, the teeth
would pass through small slits in a piece of wood, pulling the fibers of the cotton all the
way through but leaving the unwanted seeds behind.

       At a gathering of local farmers, Whitney gave a demo. His crudely made box, with a
cylinder, a crank, and a row of saw like teeth with the help of a few men or mules, cleaned more cotton than a team of workers could have done in an entire day. Agog with the possibilities, the witnesses rushed to order their workers to begin planting entire fields with green cotton seed. Word spread like wildfire and before the frenzy was finished there was more cotton planted than Whitney could possibly have ginned in an entire year of building new machines. 

       After the adaptation of James Watt’s steam engine to drive the gin, the process became entirely mechanized and thus began the Industrial Revolution.

       More recently, devices for removing trash, drying, moisturizing, fractioning fiber, sorting cleaning, and baling have been added to modern cotton gins.  Using electric power and air-suction techniques, highly automated gins of today can produce 15 tons of cleaned cotton an hour.