Smaller gins could be cranked by hand; larger ones could be powered by a horse and, later, by a steam engine. Whitney’s hand-cranked machine could remove the seeds from 50 pounds of cotton in a single day. Whitney wrote to his father: “One man and a horse will do more than fifty men with the old machines…Tis generally said by those who know anything about it, that I shall make a Fortune by it. “Whitney received a patent for his invention in 1794; he and Miller then formed a cotton gin manufacturing company.
The two entrepreneurs planned to build cotton gins and install them on plantations throughout the South, taking as payment a portion of all the cotton produced by each plantation. While farmers were delighted with the idea of a machine that could boost cotton production so dramatically, they had no intention of sharing a significant percentage of their profits with Whitney and Miller.
Instead, the design for the cotton gin was pirated and plantation owners constructed their own machines-many of them an improvement over Whitney’s original model. Cotton Gin’s Impact on Slavery And The American EconomyThe patent laws of the time had loopholes that made it difficult for Whitney to protect his rights asan inventor.
Even though the laws were changed a few years later, Whitney’s patent expired before he ever realized much profit. Still, the cotton gin had transformed the American economy. For the South, it meant that cotton could be produced plentifully and cheaply for domestic use and for export, and by the mid-19th century, cotton was America’s leading export.
For the North, especially New England, cotton’s rise meant a steady supply of raw materials for its textile mills. One inadvertent result of the cotton gin’s success, however, was that it helped strengthen slavery in the South. Although the cotton gin made cotton processing less labor-intensive, it helped planters earn greater profits, prompting them to grow larger crops, which in turn required more people.
Because slavery was the cheapest form of labor, cotton farmers simply acquired more slaves. Interchangeable PartsPatent-law issues prevented Whitney from ever significantly profiting from the cotton gin; however, in 1798, he secured a contract from the U. S. A. to withstand the rigors of combat.
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