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Eli Whitney

The Life and Legacy of the American Inventor Whose Cotton Gin Transformed the Antebellum South
Narrated by: Bill Hare
Length: 1 hr and 26 mins

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Publisher's Summary

Between the 18th and early 19th centuries, the West experienced massive leaps in technological, scientific, and economical advancement. This powerful period has since been immortalized as the great Industrial Revolution, during which Britain and other European countries became a formidable force that boasted unmatched economical growth, drastic changes in living conditions, and even the emergence of a neglected social class.

Vast portions of rural lands were transformed into interconnected, complex, and multitasking cities, and dozens of innovative inventions and products were churned out in bulk and sold to the masses for the first time ever. Some of the greatest thinkers and creators ventured forth from the shadows. Scientists, engineers, merchants, and manufacturers alike were at the height of their prime, nurtured by a culture that embraced the vision of growth, progress, and industrial unity. 

In the 1600s, cotton and silk fabrics that bore colorful and exotic printed patterns, known as “calico”, were flying off the shelves of the East India Company’s stores. The rapidly escalating demand for calico had taken a visible toll on the European textile businesses. The trend spread across Europe and North America, and picking cotton was such an arduous task that even when relying almost entirely on slave labor, it was hard to make cotton a profitable industry in North America.

That all changed with Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin near the end of the 18th century. Able to more effectively separate the cotton fiber from seeds, Whitney’s cotton gin turned the cotton industry into one of the antebellum South’s biggest cash cows, and as a result, the region became even more dependent on slave labor than before. The cotton gin exponentially increased the labor output, which in turn brought an exponential increase in the number of slaves throughout the South, despite the fact the international slave trade was banned in the fledgling United States in the early 19th century. By the dawn of the Civil War, there were over 3 million slaves in the South, and cotton was so crucial to the Southern economy that the Confederacy would try to compel European countries to intervene on their side by refusing to export cotton to them.

The Industrial Revolution’s changes also meant mass production was taking hold on both sides of the Atlantic, and Whitney’s principle of interchangeable parts was put to good use not only by the inventor himself, but by several other progressive business executives. After inventing the cotton gin, Whitney had won several lawsuits against farmers for non-payment by suing their states, and with an amassed figure of $90,000, he was able to start additional businesses. When war with France seemed like it was looming and the national armory could only produce 1,000 muskets in three years, Whitney intervened. His assembly line system with easily changeable parts produced 10,000 weapons in three years, and he devised numerous machine tools with which to facilitate the process. This would also be an important component of future corporate models and technological advances in automation and firearms manufacturing, influencing such products as Henry Ford’s cars and Oliver Winchester’s repeating rifles.

Eli Whitney: The Life and Legacy of the American Inventor Whose Cotton Gin Transformed the Antebellum South looks at the life and inventions of one of America’s first crucial inventors; you will learn about Eli Whitney like never before.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2019 Charles River Editors

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