Eli Whitney by Hattie E. Macomber



The war, called the Revolution, was ended.

The treaty of peace had been signed.

America had won her freedom.

Our country then was smaller than now.

It contained only about four million people.

These people were widely scattered.

The world did not think of the United States as an important country.

It was thought to be about as important as Denmark or Portugal is now.

We call one part of our country the South.

The South of this time was very different from the South of to-day.

Fewer cities were to be seen.

Many forests covered the land.

The plantations were few.

Plantation is the southern word for farm.

There were not many slaves then.

People hoped slavery would die out.

They thought it might if it were let alone.

Many people left the South to find other homes.

This was because they could not make a good living there.

Indigo, rice, and cotton were raised.

But only a little cotton was planted.

This was because it was such hard work to get it ready to sell.

Cotton grows upon a small shrub.

People of olden times called it the "wool of trees."

The Germans still call it "tree-wool."

One kind is called "sea-island" cotton.

This is because it grows well upon the low, sandy islands of the sea.

Some such islands are found near South Carolina.

This cotton likes the salt which it finds in the soil.

The herb cotton grows to a height of from eighteen to twenty-four inches.

The land is made ready for the seed during the winter.

As soon as the frost is gone Mother Earth is given her baby seeds to care for.

Soon the beautiful plantlets appear.

The leaves are of a dark green.

Then later come the pale yellow flowers.

The plants must then be well cared for.

Toward autumn the fruit is seen.

This looks like a walnut still in its rough coat.



Then the pods burst.

The field is then beautiful.

It looks as if it were covered with snow.

Then comes the hard work of the picking.

All hands upon the plantation must then work in the fields.

The slaves of long ago were kept very busy during this season.

The women and children worked.

They have to be careful that the cotton is quite dry when picked.

If it were damp the cotton would mould.

This would spoil it for use.

Can you imagine a snow-white field dotted with black people?

Their bright eyes must have shone still more brightly there.

The cotton does not all ripen at one time.

But it must be gathered soon after the pods are burst.

 Cotton Pickers

This is because the sun injures the color of the cotton.

Or the rain and dews injure it.

Or the winds may blow it away.

So the cotton pickers were kept busy from August until the frost came.

They went over the same fields many times.

Then, after a busy day in the field, other work remained to be done.

The cotton pickers sat upon the ground in a circle.

From the midst of the cotton they took the black seeds.

These seeds were very troublesome.

They are covered with hairs.

They cling fast to the cotton.

These naughty children of the plant love their mother.

So fast do they cling to her, that a person could clean but one pound of cotton in a whole day.

So you may understand why so little was raised.

In 1784, eight bags of cotton were taken from the United States to England.

These were seized by the custom officers.

These officers are those who look after goods sent in or out of a country.

If money is to be paid upon the goods, it is called a duty.

The custom officers must see that the duty is paid.

These men said that this cotton could not have come from America.

During the next two years less than one hundred-twenty bags were sent there from our country.

The treaty of peace with England was made in 1794.

None of the treaty-makers then knew that any cotton was raised in America.

Would you like to know why, fifty years later, a million bales were sent from America?

This is the story:

In the war with England, America had some brave generals.

One of these was General Nathaniel Greene.

He had helped to win victories in the South.

The State of Georgia gave him a tract of land.

General Greene lived with his family upon this land.

He at last died there.

Mrs. Greene was very lonely.

She went to the North to visit her friends.

On her voyage home she met a pleasant gentleman.

He was a young man, only twenty-seven years of age.

He, too, was going to Georgia.

His name was Eli Whitney.

And now you must know something of his story.

Eli Whitney was born in Massachusetts in 1765.

His people were farmers.

They were not rich people.

Eli's father had a workshop.

In this shop he worked upon rainy days.

He made wheels and chairs.

Eli grew up like other farm boys.

He helped on the farm.

He attended the district school.

He took care of the cattle and horses.

But very early in his life he became fond of tools.

He used to creep into his father's shop.

He could scarcely wait to be old enough to use the tools there.

One of the interesting tools was a lathe for turning chair posts.

His father allowed him the use of all these as soon as he was large enough to take care of them.

After that, he was always at work at something.

He liked work in the shop much more than work upon the farm.

Eli's mother died when he was a little boy.

This is a sad event in any boy's life.

When Eli was about twelve years old, his father took a journey from home.

He was gone two or three days.

When he returned, he called the housekeeper.

He asked her what the boys had been doing.

She told him what the elder boys had done.

"But what has Eli been doing?" said he.

"He has been making a fiddle," was the answer.

"Ah!" said the father, "I fear Eli will take his portion in fiddles."

The fiddle was finished like a common violin.

It made pretty good music.

Many people came to see it.

They said it was a fine piece of work for a boy.

Afterwards people brought him their violins to mend.

He did the mending nicely.

Every one was surprised.

They brought him other work to do.

Eli's father had a nice watch.

Eli loved to look at it.

It was a great wonder to him.

He wished to see the inside of it.

His father would not allow this.

One Sunday the family were getting ready for church.

Eli noticed that his father intended leaving his watch at home.

He could not lose such a good chance.

So he pretended to be quite sick.

His father allowed him to stay at home.

Soon he was alone with the wonderful little watch.

He hurried to the room where it hung.

He took it down carefully.

His hands shook, but he managed to open it.

How delightful was the motion of those wheels!

It seemed a living thing.

Eli forgot his father.

He thought only of the wonderful machinery.

He must know just how it went.

He took the watch all to pieces before he remembered how wrong it was to do so.

Then he began to be frightened.

What if he couldn't put it together!

He knew his father was a very stern man.

Slowly and carefully the boy went to work.

And so bright was he that he succeeded in getting it together all right.

His father did not find out the mischief.

Several years afterward Eli told him about it.

When Eli was thirteen years old his father married a second time.

Eli's stepmother had a handsome set of table knives.

She valued them highly.

One day Eli said, "I could make as good knives as those if I had tools.

"And I could make the tools if I had common tools to begin with."

His mother laughed at him.

But soon after one of the knives was broken.

Eli made a blade exactly like the broken one, except its stamp.

Soon Eli was fifteen years of age.

He wished to go into the nail-making business.

It was during the Revolution.

Nails were made almost entirely by hand.

They were in great demand.

They brought good prices.

Eli asked his father to bring him a few tools.

His father consented.

The work was begun.

Eli was very industrious.

He made good nails.

He also found time to make more tools for his own use.

He put in knife blades.

He repaired broken machinery.

He did many other things beyond the skill of country workmen.

Eli worked in this way two winters.

He made money.

He worked on the farm in the summer.

At one time Eli took a journey of forty miles.

He visited every workshop on the way.

These visits taught him much.

He found a man who could go back with him and help him in his business.

At the close of the war it did not pay to go on with the nail-making.

The ladies began a new fashion about that time.

This was the use of long pins for fastening on their bonnets.

He made very nearly all the pins used.

Eli made these pins with great skill.

This work was done in the time spared from his farm work.

He also made excellent walking canes.

During all these years Eli's schooling had been received at different times at the district school.

He was very fond of arithmetic.

During his nineteenth year he made up his mind to have a college education.

His step-mother did not wish him to do this.

But he worked hard and saved his money.

A part of the time he taught school.

He was twenty-three when he entered Yale College.

He borrowed some money, for which he gave his note.

At one time one of the college teachers wished to show his pupils some experiments. But some of the things to be used were broken.

Eli offered to mend them.

This he did, and succeeded in surprising every one.

A carpenter lived near his boarding place.

Eli asked for the loan of some of his tools.

The careful carpenter did not wish to lend them.

He at last gave his consent in this way:—

The gentleman with whom Mr. Whitney boarded must promise to pay all the damages.

But he soon saw how skilful Mr. Whitney was.

He was surprised and said:

"There was one good mechanic spoiled when you went to college."

Mr. Whitney graduated in 1792.

He was engaged by a gentleman in Georgia to teach his children.

It was on this journey to his new work that he met Mrs. Greene.

Mrs. Greene liked Mr. Whitney very much.

When they reached Savannah, she invited him to her home.

At this time he had a great disappointment.

The gentleman who had hired him to come to Georgia coolly told him his services were not wanted.

He had no friends.

He was out of money.

But Mrs. Greene became his good friend.

He went to live at her house.

Here he began the study of law.

Mrs. Greene was one day doing some embroidery.

She broke the frame upon which she was working.

She did not know how to finish the work without it.

Mr. Whitney looked at it carefully.

Then he made her a new frame.

It was even better than the other one had been.

Of course Mrs. Greene was much pleased.

Mr. Whitney also made fine toys for the children.

Soon after this, a party of gentlemen visited at Mrs. Greene's home.

They were nearly all men who had been officers during the war.

Mr. Greene had been their general.

They began talking of the South.

They wished something might be done to improve that part of the country.

They wished it might be made a better place in which to live.

They spoke of the fine spinning machines that were coming into use in England.

Much land in the South could be used for cotton.

This could be sent to England for manufacture.

The South could become a rich country in this way.

But there was one great difficulty.

It cost so much to clean the cotton.

Mrs. Greene said, "I know who can help you.

"Apply to my young friend, Mr. Whitney. He can make anything."

She then showed the gentlemen her frame and other things which Mr. Whitney had made.

Mr. Whitney said he had never seen cotton or its seed.

None was raised near the home of the Greene's.

Mr. Whitney did not make any promises.

But the next day he went to work.

He went first to the city of Savannah.

There he searched among the warehouses and boats.

At last he found a small parcel of cotton.

This he carried home.

He shut himself up in a small basement room.

His tools were poor.

He made better ones.

No wire could be bought in Savannah.

So he made his own wire.

Mrs. Greene and a Mr. Miller were the only persons allowed to come into his work-shop.

Day after day the children wondered to hear the queer clinking and hammering.

They laughed at Mr. Whitney.

But that did not trouble him.

Before the end of the winter the machine was nearly perfect.

Its success seemed certain.

Mrs. Greene was very happy over the work.

She was eager that people should know about this wonderful invention.

She could not wait until a patent was secured.

A patent is given by the government.

It is given to prevent others from claiming an invention.

Often it keeps people from manufacturing the article without the permission of the owner.

So Mrs. Green invited a party of gentlemen from all parts of the state to visit her.

These gentlemen were taken to see the machine do its work.

They were greatly astonished.

For what did they see?

This curious little machine cleaned the cotton of its seed.

And it would clean in a day more than a man could do in months.

They went to their homes.

They told everybody about it.

Great crowds began coming to see it.

But they were refused permission to do so.

This was because it had not yet been patented.

So one night some wicked men broke into the building.

They stole the cotton-gin.

You can well imagine how dreadful this was.

Mr. Whitney had no money.

So Mr. Miller agreed to be his partner.

Mr. Miller had come to Georgia from the North.

He, too, was a graduate of Yale College.

He afterward married Mrs. Greene.

He became Mr. Whitney's partner in May, 1773.

Perhaps you wonder why the machine was called a gin. It was a short way of saying engine.

A gin is a machine that aids the work of a person.

The cotton-gin was made to work much the same as the hand of a person.

It dragged the cotton away from the seed.

And now begins the sorrowful part of the story.

Before Mr. Whitney could get his patent, several other gins had been made.

Each claimed to be the best.

The plans were all stolen from Mr. Whitney's.



One was the roller-gin.

This crushed the seed in the cotton.

Of course this injured the cotton.

Another was the saw-gin.

This was exactly like Mr. Whitney's, except that the saws were set differently.

Many lawsuits were begun.

Mr. Whitney went to Connecticut.

There he had a shop for making the gins.

When the suits began he had to return to Georgia.

In this way two years went by.

By this time everyone knew the value of the gin.

Mr. Whitney went to New York.

There he became ill.

His illness lasted three weeks.

Then he was able to go on to New Haven.

 SAW-GIN, 1794.

SAW-GIN, 1794.

There he found that his shop had been destroyed by fire.

All his machines and papers were burned.

He was four thousand dollars in debt.

But neither Mr. Miller nor Mr. Whitney were the kind of men who give up easily.

Mr. Miller wrote that he would give all his time, thought, labor, and all the money he could borrow to help.

"It shall never be said that we gave up when a little perseverance would have carried us through," he said.

About this time bad news came from England.

The cotton, you remember, was then all sent there for manufacture.

English manufacturers now claimed that the cotton was injured by the gin.

This was in 1796.

Miller and Whitney had thirty gins working in different places in Georgia.

Some were worked by cattle and horses.

Others were run by water.

Soon, however, the manufacturers found that the Whitney cotton gin did not injure the cotton.

The first lawsuit was decided against Miller and Whitney.

They asked for another trial.

But this was refused them.

Everywhere through the South they were cheated and robbed.

Yet all the time the South was growing richer because of the cotton gin.

Slaves grew more and more valuable.

For negroes can endure the heat of the cotton fields.

But white men can not.

The planters of the South bought more and more slaves.

So slavery grew stronger because of the cotton gin.

Several states made contracts with Mr. Whitney.

They agreed to pay him certain sums of money.

But South Carolina broke her contract.

All these things made Mr. Whitney sick at heart.

He said that he had tried hard to do right by every one.

And it stung him to the very soul to be treated like a swindler or a villain.

The people of Georgia tried to prove that somebody in Switzerland had invented the cotton gin.

Tennessee broke its contract.

There were high-minded men who tried to help Mr. Whitney.

They were able to do only a little for him.

In 1803, Mr. Miller died.

Mr. Whitney was then left to fight his battles alone.

Things grew a little brighter as time went on.

Mr. Whitney received some money on his invention.

But the greater part of it had to be spent in lawsuits.

A suit was begun in the United States Court.

But the time of his patent was almost out.

He had made six journeys to Georgia.

One gentleman said that he never knew another man so persevering.

In 1798, Mr. Whitney made a contract with the government of the United States.

By this contract he was to manufacture fire-arms.

He established his factory near New Haven.

The place is now called Whitneyville.

It is a beautiful place.

A waterfall furnished the power to run his machinery.

Here Mr. Whitney worked hard.

He had machinery to make.

He had to teach his own workmen.

For eight years he worked to fill this contract.

He arose as soon as day appeared.

Look in any part of the factory you might, you would see something which he, himself had done.

He improved many tools.

He made better guns than had ever been made.

So that for these things, too, our country is indebted to Mr. Whitney.

In 1812, he made new contracts.

Another war with England began in that year.

Mr. Whitney's guns never failed to be all right.

Other men took contracts of the same kind.

But their guns were failures.

Mr. Calhoun, the Secretary of War, said to Mr. Whitney, "You are saving your country seventy-five thousand dollars a year."

This was by his improvements in fire-arms.

Mr. Whitney tried to get the government to extend the time of the patent upon the cotton-gin.

But this was refused.

That did not seem very grateful, did it?

Robert Fulton, the inventor of the first steamboat, was his friend.

They had many troubles in common.

Mr. Whitney's last days were his happiest days.

Such patience, perseverance, and skill must count in the long run.

His factory made him quite a rich man.

Some of the southern states showed their gratitude.

In 1817, Mr. Whitney married Miss Edwards of Connecticut.

He had a son and three daughters.

The people of New Haven respected him.

They gave him great honor.

He died on January 8, 1825.

The little cotton-gin had done a great work.

The sunny South was covered with beautiful plantations.

The cotton fields shone in the sunlight.


Riches were beginning to fill the pockets of the planters.

Only one blight remained upon the land.

This was the dreadful system of slavery.

And that, too, has been destroyed.

We wish that Mr. Whitney might see the South of to-day.

He did not live to know how great a curse slavery might be.

He did not foresee that his cotton-gin might help to cause a great war.

Yet the blue and the gray fought and died.

The blood of many a hero stained a southern field.

All this that the cotton-pickers might be free!

All this that our country might be truly "the land of the free and the home of the brave!"