On this day in 1794 Eli Whitney is granted a patent for the cotton gin.
A cotton gin is a machine that quickly and easily separates cotton fibres from their seeds, allowing for much greater productivity than manual cotton separation. The fibres are processed into clothing or other cotton goods, and any undamaged seeds may be used to grow more cotton or to produce cottonseed oil and meal.
Although simple handheld roller gins have been used in India and other countries since at least 500 AD, the first modern mechanical cotton gin was created by American inventor Eli Whitney in 1793, and patented in 1794. It used a combination of a wire screen and small wire hooks to pull the cotton through, while brushes continuously removed the loose cotton lint to prevent jams. Whitney’s gin revolutionised the cotton industry in the United States, but also led to the growth of slavery in the American South as the demand for cotton workers rapidly increased. The invention has thus has been identified as an inadvertent contributing factor to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Modern automated cotton gins use multiple powered cleaning cylinders and saws, and offer far higher productivity than their hand-powered forebears.