Eli Whitney – 1765-1825
In 1793, Yale University graduate Eli Whitney, who was working as a tutor at Mulberry Grove, a Georgia plantation, patented the cotton gin, a device he designed to automate the removal of seeds from short-staple cotton, making cotton cultivation extremely efficient and profitable. Whitney’s invention had two profound effects: it made cotton king in the South, and it increased the demand for slave labor to pick cotton, thereby ensuring the continuation of slavery as a southern institution. Whitney realized little profit from the cotton gin—which was widely pirated—but made a fortune selling rifles to the U.S. Army in 1797, producing them with interchangeable parts, so that they could be rapidly assembled by unskilled workmen. It was a prelude to true mass production.