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article number 201
article date 01-17-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin, 1793, a Gut Wrenching Story of Perseverance
by 1840’s Professor Olmated

Published in the 1852 volume, “Memoirs of the Most Eminent American Mechanics”. Condensed from the memoir written by Professor Olmated.

When Eli Whitney was fifteen or sixteen years of age, he suggested to his father an enterprise, which was an earnest of the similar undertakings in which he engaged on a far greater scale in later life. This being the time of the revolutionary war, nails were in great demand, and bore a high price. At that period, nails were made chiefly by hand, with little aid from machinery.

Young Eli Whitney proposed to his father to procure him a few tools, and to permit him to set up the manufacture. His father consented, and he went steadily to work, and suffered nothing to divert him from his task until his day’s work was completed. By extraordinary diligence, he gained time to make tools for his own use, and to put in knife blades, and to perform many other curious little jobs, which exceeded the skill of the country artisans.

At this laborious occupation, the enterprising boy wrought alone, with great success, and with much profit to his father, for two winters, pursuing the ordinary labors of the farm during the summers.

At this time he devised a plan for enlarging his business and increasing his profits. He whispered his scheme to his sister, with strong injunctions of secrecy; and requesting leave of his father to go to a neighboring town, without specifying his object, he set out on horseback in quest of a fellow laborer. Not finding one so easily as he had anticipated, he proceeded from town to town, with a perseverance which was always a strong trait of his character, until at the distance of forty miles from home, he found such a workman as he desired. He also made his journey subservient to his improvement in mechanical skill, for he called at every workshop on his way, and gleaned all the information he could respecting the mechanic arts.

Eli Whitney Birthplace, Westborogh Massachusetts.

At the close of the war, the business of making nails was no longer profitable; but a fashion prevailing among the ladies of fastening on their bonnets with long pins, he contrived to make those with such skill and dexterity, that he nearly monopolized the business, although he devoted to it only such seasons of leisure as he could redeem from the occupations of the farm, to which he now principally betook himself. He added to this article the manufacture of walking canes, which he made with peculiar neatness.

We are informed that he manifested an aptness for mathematical calculations, and that when quite young, was considered not only remarkable for his ingenuity, but for general information.

From the age of nineteen, young Whitney conceived the idea of obtaining a Liberal education; and partly by the avails of his mechanical industry, and partly by teaching a village school, was enabled so far to surmount the difficulties thrown in his way, as to prepare himself for the freshman class in Yale College, which he entered in 1789. While a schoolmaster, the mechanic would often usurp the place of the teacher; and the mind, too aspiring for such a sphere, was wandering off in pursuit of “perpetual motion.”

At college, his mechanical propensity frequently showed itself. He successfully undertook on one occasion, the repairing of some of the philosophical apparatus. On another, a carpenter being at work at the house where Eli Whitney boarded, he solicited the permission to use his tools. The carpenter being unwilling to trust him, only granted the request on the gentleman of the house promising to be responsible for the damages; but no sooner had Whitney commenced operations, than the man, astonished, exclaimed, “There was one good mechanic spoiled when you went to college.”

Soon after taking his degree in the autumn of 1792, Mr. Whitney engaged with a Mr. B., of Georgia, to reside in his family as a private teacher. On his arrival he was informed that Mr. B. had employed another person, leaving him without resources or friends, save in the family of General Greene, of Mulberry Grove, near Savannah, with whom he had formed an accidental acquaintance. These benevolent people, however, deeply interested themselves in his case, and hospitably offered him the privilege of making his home at their house, where he commenced the study of law.

Portrait Of Eli Whitney.

While residing there, Mrs. Greene was employed in embroidery, which is worked on a kind of frame, called a tambour. She complained of its bad construction, and observed it tore the delicate threads of her work. Mr. Whitney, eager for an opportunity to oblige his hostess, set himself to work and speedily produced a tambour frame on a plan entirely new, with which he presented her. Mrs. Greene and her family were much delighted with it, and considered it a wonderful piece of ingenuity.

Not long after, the family were visited by a party of gentlemen, consisting principally of officers who had served under the general, in the revolutionary army. The conversation turning upon the state of agriculture, it was regretted that there was no means of cleaning the seed from the green seed cotton, which might otherwise be profitably raised on lands unsuitable for rice. But, until ingenuity could devise some machine which would greatly facilitate the process of cleaning, it was vain to think of raising cotton for market. Separathig one pound of the clean staple from the seed was a day’s work for a woman; but the time usually devoted to the picking of the cotton was the evening, after the labor of the field was over. Then the slaves, men, women, and children, were collected in circles with one, whose duty it was to rouse the dozing and quicken the indolent.

While the company were engaged in this conversation, “Gentlemen,” said Mrs. Greene, “apply to my young friend, Mr. Whitney, he can make anything,” at the same time showing them the tambour frame and several other articles which he had made. She introduced the gentlemen to Whitney himself, extolling his genius, and commending him to their notice and friendship. He modestly disclaimed all pretensions to mechanical genius, and on their naming the object, replied that he had never seen cotton seed in his life. Mrs. G. said to one of the gentlemen, “I have accomplished my aim, Mr. Whitney is a very deserving young man, and to bring him into notice was my object. The interest which our friends now feel for him, will, I hope, lead to his getting some employment to enable him to prosecute the study of the law.”

But none foresaw the change that this interview was to make in the plan of his life. He immediately began upon the task of inventing and constructing that machine, on which his future fame depended. Mr. Miller, to whom he communicated his design, warmly encouraged him in it, and gave him a room in his house, wherein to carry on his operations. Here he set himself to work, with the disadvantage of being obliged to manufacture his tools and draw his own wire, an article then not to be found in Savannah. Mr. Phineas Miller and Mrs. Greene were the only persons who knew anything of his occupation. The many hours he spent in his mysterious pursuits, afforded matter of great curiosity, and often of raillery, to the younger members of the family. Near the close of the winter, the machine was so nearly completed as to leave no doubt of his success.

The individual who contributed most to incite him to persevere in the undertaking, was Mr. Miller, who was a native of Connecticut, and a graduate of Yale college. Like Mr. Whitney, soon after he had completed his education, he came to Georgia as a private teacher, in the family of General Greene, and after the decease of the general, he became the husband of Mrs. Greene. He had qualified himself for the profession of law, and was a gentleman of cultivated mind and superior talents; but he was of an ardent temperament, and therefore well fitted to enter with zeal into the views which the genius of his friend had laid open to him. He had also considerable funds at command, and proposed to Mr. Whitney to become the joint adventurer, and to be at the whole expense of manufacturing the invention until it should be patented. If the machine should succeed in its intended operation, the parties agreed, under legal formalities, “that the profits and advantages arising there-from, as well as all privileges and emoluments to be derived from patenting, making, vending, and working the same, should be mutually and equally shared between them.” This instrument bears date May 27, 1793, and immediately afterwards they commenced business under the firm of Miller and Eli Whitney.


An invention so important to the agricultural interests (and, as it has proved, to every department of human industry,) could not long remain a secret. The knowledge of it soon spread through the state, and so great was the excitement on the subject, that multitudes of persons came from all quarters of the state to see the machine; but it was not deemed safe to gratify their curiosity until the patent right should be secured. But so determined were some of the populace to possess this treasure, that neither law nor justice could restrain them; they broke open the building by night, and carried off the machine. In this way the public became possessed of the invention; and before Mr. Whitney could complete his model and secure his patent, a number of machines were in successful operation, constructed with some slight deviation from the original, with the hope of evading the penalty for violating the patent right.

As soon as the co-partnership of Miller and Whitney was formed, Mr. Whitney repaired to Connecticut, where, as far as possible, he was to perfect the machine, obtain a patent, and manufacture and ship for Georgia, such a number of machines as would supply the demand.

Within three days after the conclusion of the co-partnership, Eli Whitney having set out for the north, Mr. Miller commenced his long correspondence relative to the cotton gin. The first letter announces that encroachments upon their rights had already commenced. “It will be necessary,” says Mr. Miller, “to have a considerable number of gins made, to be in readiness to send out as soon as the patent is obtained, in order to satisfy the absolute demands, and make people’s heads easy on the subject; for I am informed of two other claimants for the honor of the invention of cotton gins, in addition to those we knew before.”

At the close of this year (1793) Mr. Whitney was to return to Georgia with his cotton gins, where his partner had made arrangements for commencing business immediately after his arrival. The importunity of Mr. Miller’s letters, written during the preceding period, urging him to come on, evinces how eager the Georgia planters were to enter the new field of enterprise which the genius of Eli Whitney had laid open to them. Nor did they at first, in general, contemplate availing themselves of the invention unlawfully. But the minds of the more honorable class of planters were afterwards deluded by various artifices, set on foot by designing men, with the view of robbing Mr. Whitney of his just rights.

One of the greatest difficulties experienced by men of enterprise, at this period, was the extreme scarcity of money, which embarrassed them to such a degree as to render it almost impossible to construct machines fast enough.

In April he returned to Georgia; during his absence he was strongly importuned to return by his partner, on account of the infatuated eagerness of the Georgia planters to obtain the advantages of his machine. Large crops of cotton were planted, the profits of which were to depend, of course, entirely on the success and employment of the gin.


The roller gin was at first the most formidable competitor with Eli Whitney’s machine. It extricated the seed by means of rollers, crushing them between revolving cylinders, instead of disengaging them by means of teeth. The fragments of seeds which remained in the cotton rendered its execution much inferior in this respect to Whitney’s gin, and it was also much slower in its operation. Great efforts were made, however, to create an impression in favor of its superiority in other respects.

But a still more formidable rival appeared early in the year 1795, under the name of the saw gin. It was Whitney’s gin, except that the teeth were cut in circular rims of iron, instead of being made of wires, as was the case in the earlier forms of the patent gin. The idea of such teeth had early occurred to Mr. Whitney, as he afterwards established by legal proof. But they would have been of no use except in connection with the other parts of his machine; and, therefore, this was a palpable attempt to invade the patent right, and it was principally in reference to this that the lawsuits were afterwards held.

In March, 1795, in the midst of perplexities and discouragements, Mr. Whitney went to New York on business, where he was detained three weeks by fever. As soon as he was able, he went by packet to New Haven, where, on landing, he was informed, that on the preceding day, his shop, with all his machines and papers, had been consumed by fire! Thus was he suddenly reduced to bankruptcy, being in debt four thousand dollars, without any means of payment. His mind, however, was not one to sink under such trials as even this; he was, on the contrary, incited to more vigorous effort. Similar was the spirit manifested by Mr. Miller. The following extract of a letter of his to Mr. Whitney may be a useful lesson to young men who feel themselves overwhelmed with misfortunes:

“I think that we ought to meet such events with equanimity. We have been pursuing a valuable object by honorable means; and I trust that all our measures have been such as reason and virtue must justify. It has pleased Providence to postpone the attainment of this object. In the midst of the reflections which your story has suggested, and with feelings keenly awake to the heavy, the extensive injury we have sustained, I feel a secret joy and satisfaction, that you possess a mind in this respect similar to my own—that you are not disheartened—that you do not relinquish the pursuit—and that you will persevere, and endeavor, at all events, to attain the main object. This is exactly consonant to my own determinations. I will devote all my time, all my thoughts, all my exertions, and all the money I can earn or borrow, to encompass and complete the business we have undertaken; and if fortune should, by any future disaster, deny us the boon we ask, we will at least deserve it. It shall never be said that we have lost an object which a little perseverance could have attained. I think, indeed, it will be very extraordinary, if two young men in the prime of life, with some share of ingenuity, with a little knowledge of the world, a great deal of industry, and a considerable command of property, should not be able to sustain such a stroke of misfortune as this, heavy as it is.”

After this disaster the company began to feel much straitened for want of funds. Mr. Miller expresses a confidence that they should be able to raise money in some way or other, though he knows not how. He recommends to Mr. Whitney to proceed forthwith to erect a new shop, and to recommence his business, and requests him to tell the people of New Haven, who might be disposed to render them any service, that they required nothing but a little time to get their machinery in motion before they could make payment, and that the loan of money at twelve per cent per annum would be as great a favor as they could ask. But, he adds, “in doing this, use great care to avoid giving an idea that we are in a desperate situation, to induce us to borrow money. To people who are deficient in understanding, this precaution will be extremely necessary: men of sense can easily distinguish between the prospect of large gains, and the approaches to bankruptcy.” “Such is the disposition of man,” he observes on another occasion, “that while we keep afloat, there will not be wanting those who will appear willing to assist us; but let us once be given over, and they will immediately desert us.”


While misfortune was thus multiplying upon them, intelligence was received from England that the manufacturers had condemned the cotton cleaned by their machines, on the ground that the staple was greatly injured. This news threatened the death-blow to their hopes. At this time (1796) they had thirty gins at eight different places in Georgia, some carried by horses and oxen, and some by water. Some of these were even then standing still. The company had $10,000 dollars in real estate, suited only to the purposes of ginning cotton. The following extract of a letter, written by Mr. Whitney at this period, will serve to show the state of his mind and affairs at this period :—

“The extreme embarrassments,” says he, “which have been for a long time accumulating upon me, are now become so great, that it will be impossible for me to struggle against them many days longer. It has required my utmost exertions to exist, without making the least progress in our business. I have labored hard against the strong current of disappointment, which has been threatening to carry us down the cataract, but I have labored with a shattered oar, and struggled in vain, unless some speedy relief is obtained. . . . . Life is but short at best, and six or seven years out of the midst of it is, to him who makes it, an immense sacrifice. My most unremitted attention has been devoted to our business; I have sacrificed to it other objects from which, before this time, I might certainly have gained twenty or thirty thousand dollars. My whole prospects have been embarked in it, with the expectation that I should, before this time, have realized something from it.”

The cotton from Eli Whitney’s gins was, however, sought by merchants in preference to other kinds, and respectable manufacturers testified in its favor; and had it not been for the extensive and shameful violations of their patent right, they might yet have succeeded, but these encroachments had become so extensive as almost to annihilate its value. The issue of the first trial they were able to obtain, is announced in the following letter from Mr. Miller, dated May 11, 1797 :—

“The event of the first patent suit, after all our exertions made in such a variety of ways, has gone against us. The preposterous custom of trying civil causes of this intricacy and magnitude by a common jury, together with the imperfection of the patent law, frustrated all our views, and disappointed expectations which had become very sanguine. The tide of popular opinion was running in our favor, the judge was well disposed towards us, and many decided friends were with us, who adhered firmly to our cause and interests. The judge gave a charge to the jury pointedly in our favor; after which the defendant himself told an acquaintance of his, that he would give two thousand dollars to be free from the verdict; and yet the jury gave it against us, after a consultation of about an hour. And having made the verdict general, no appeal would lie.”

“On Monday morning, when the verdict was rendered, we applied for a new trial; but the judge refused it to us, on the ground that the jury might have made up their opinion on the defect of the law, which makes an aggression consist of making, devising, and using, or selling; whereas we could only charge the defendant with using.”

“Thus, after four years of assiduous labor, fatigue, and difficulty, are we again set afloat by a new and most unexpected obstacle. Our hopes of success are now removed to a period still more distant than before, while our expenses are realized beyond all controversy.”

Patent Drawing.
Patent Drawing.

Great efforts were made to obtain trial in a second suit, at the session of the court in Savannah, in May, 1798. A great number of witnesses were collected from various parts of the country, to the distance of a hundred miles from Savannah, when, behold, no judge appeared, and, of course, no court was held. In consequence of the failure of the first suit, and so great a procrastination of the second, the encroachments on the patent right had been prodigiously multiplied, so as almost entirely to destroy the business of the patentees.

In April, 1799, Mr. Miller writes as follows :—“The prospect of making any thing by ginning in this state is at an end. Surreptitious gins are erected in every part of the country; and the jurymen at Augusta have come to an understanding among themselves, that they will never give a cause in our favor, let the merits of the case be as they may.”

The company would now have gladly relinquished the plan of working their own machines, and confined their operations to the sale of patent rights; but few would buy a patent right which they could use with impunity without purchasing, and those few, hardly in single instance, paid cash, but gave their notes, which they afterwards to a great extent avoided paying, either by obtaining a verdict from the juries declaring them void, or by contriving to postpone the collection until they were barred by the statute of limitations, a period of only four years. When thus barred, the agent of Miller and Whitney, who was despatched on a collecting tour through the state of Georgia, informed them, that such obstacles were thrown in his way from one or the other of the foregoing causes, he was unable to collect money enough from all these claims to bear his expenses, but was compelled to draw for nearly the whole amount of these upon his employers.

It was suggested that an application to the legislature of South Carolina to purchase the patent right for that state would be successful. Mr. Whitney accordingly repaired to Columbia, and the business was brought before the legislature soon after the opening of the session in December, 1801. An extract from a letter of Mr. Whitney to his friend Stebbins, at this time, will show the nature of the contract thus made :—

“I have been at this place a little more than two weeks, attending the legislature. They closed their session at ten o’clock last evening. A few hours previous to their adjournment, they voted to purchase, for the state of South Carolina, my patent right to the machine for cleaning cotton, at fifty thousand dollars, of which sum twenty thousand is to be paid in hand, and the remainder in three annual payments of ten thousand dollars each.” He adds, “We get but a song for it in comparison with the worth of the thing; but it is securing something. It will enable Miller and Eli Whitney to pay all their debts, and divide something between them.”

In December, 1802, Mr. Whitney negotiated a sale of his patent right with the state of North Carolina. The legislature laid a tax of two shillings and sixpence upon every saw (some of the gins had forty saws) employed in ginning cotton, to be continued for five years; and after deducting the expenses of collection, the avails were faithfully passed over to the patentee. This compensation was regarded by Mr. Whitney as more liberal than that received from any other source. About the same time, Mr. Goodrich, an agent of the company, entered into a similar negotiation with the state of Tennessee. This state had by this time begun to realize the importance and usefulness of the invention. The citizens testified strongly their desire of coming into possession of its benefits. The legislature, therefore, passed a law, laying a tax of thirty-seven and a half cents per annum on every saw, for the space of four years.

The commercial use of the Cotton Gin was of great economic significance.

Thus far prospects were growing favorable to the patentees, when the legislature of South Carolina unexpectedly annulled the contract she had made, suspended further payment of the balance then due, and sued for the refunding of what had already been paid.

When Mr. Whitney first heard of the transactions of the South Carolina legislature annulling their contract, he was at Raleigh, where he had just concluded his negotiation with the legislature of North Carolina. In a letter written to Mr. Miller at this time he remarks: “I am, for my own part, more vexed than alarmed by their extraordinary proceedings. I think it behooves us to be very cautious and circumspect in our measures, and even in our remarks with regard to it. Be cautious what you say or publish till we meet our enemies in a court of justice, when, if they have any sensibility left, we will make them very much ashamed of their childish conduct.”

But that Mr. Whitney felt very keenly in regard to the seventies afterwards practised towards him, is evident from the tenor of the remonstrance which he presented to the legislature. “The sub scriber (says he) respectfully solicits permission to represent to the legislature of South Carolina, that he conceives himself to have been treated with unreasonable severity in the measures recently taken against him by and under their immediate direction. He holds that, to be seized and dragged to prison without being allowed to be heard in answer to the charge alleged against him, and indeed without the exhibition of any specific charge, is a direct violation of the common right of every citizen of a free government; that the power, in this case, is all on one side; that whatever may be the issue of the process now instituted against him, he must, in any case, be subjected to great expense and extreme hardships; and that he considers the tribunal before which he is holden to appear, to be wholly incompetent to decide, definitively, existing disputes between the state and Miller and Whitney.

“The subscriber avers that he has manifested no other than a disposition to fulfil all the stipulations, entered into with the state of South Carolina, with punctuality and good faith; and he begs leave to observe farther, that to have industriously, laboriously, and exclusively, devoted many years of the prime of his life to the invention and the improvement of a machine, from which the citizens of South Carolina have already realized immense profits,
—which is worth to them millions, and from which their posterity, to the latest generations, must continue to derive the most important benefits, and in return to be treated as a felon, a swindler, and a villain, has stung him to the very soul. And when he considers that this cruel persecution is inflicted by the very persons who are enjoying these great benefits, and expressly for the purpose of preventing his ever deriving the least advantage from his own labors, the acuteness of his feelings is altogether inexpressible.”

Doubts, it seems, had arisen in the public mind as to the validity of the patent, and the patentees were supposed to have failed in the fulfilment of a part of the contract. Great exertions had been made in Georgia, where, it will be remembered, hostilities were first declared against him, to show that his title to the invention was unsound, and that somebody in Switzerland had conceived of it before him, and that the improved form of the machine, with saws instead of wire teeth, did not come within the patent, having been introduced by one Hodgin Holmes.

The popular voice, stimulated by the most sordid motives, was now raised against him throughout all the cotton growing states. The state of Tennessee followed the example of South Carolina, in annulling the contract made with him; and the attempt was made in North Carolina, but a committee of the legislature, to whom it was referred, reported in his favor, declaring “that the contract ought to be fulfilled with punctuality and good faith,” which resolution was adopted by both houses.

There were also high-minded men in South Carolina who were indignant at the dishonorable measures adopted by their legislature of 1803; and their sentiments had impressed the community so favorably with regard to Mr. Whitney, that at the session of 1804, the legislature not only rescinded what the previous one had done, but signified their respect for Mr. Whitney by marked commendations. Nor ought it to be forgotten that there were in Georgia, too, those who viewed with scorn and indignation the base attempts of demagogues to defraud him. The proceedings against Mr. Whitney were predicated upon impositions practised upon the public.


At this time, a new and unexpected responsibility devolved on Mr. Whitney, in consequence of the death of his partner, Mr. Miller, who died on the 7th of December, 1803. Mr. Miller had, in the early stages of the enterprise, indulged very high hopes of a sudden fortune; but perpetual disappointments appear to have attended him throughout the remainder of his life. The history of them, as detailed in his voluminous correspondence, affords an instructive exemplification of the anxiety, toil, and uncertainty that frequently accompany too eager a pursuit of wealth, and the pain and disappointments that follow in the train of expectations too highly elated.

If Mr. Miller anticipated a great bargain from an approaching auction of cotton, some sly adventurer was sure to step in before him, and bid it out of his hands. If he looked to his extensive rice crops, cultivated on the estate of General Greene, as the means of raising money to extricate himself from the numerous embarrassments into which he had fallen, a severe drought came on and shrivelled the crop, or floods of rain suddenly destroyed it. The markets unexpectedly changed at the very moment of selling, and always to his disadvantage. Heavy rains likewise destroyed the cotton crops on which he had counted for thousands; and more than all, wicked and dishonest men contrived to cheat him of his just rights, and thus his airy hopes were often frustrated, until at length he was beguiled into inextricable difficulties; and in the midst of all, and on the dawn of a brighter day, death stepped in and dissolved the pageant that had so long been dancing before his eyes.

Eli Whitney was now left alone, to contend singly against those difficulties which had for a series of years, almost broken down the spirits of both the partners. The light, moreover, which seemed to be rising upon them from the favorable occurrences of the preceding year, proved but the twilight of prosperity, and a darker night seemed about to supervene.

But the favorable issue of the affairs of Eli Whitney, in South Carolina, during the subsequent year, and the generous receipts that he obtained from the avails of his contracts with North Carolina, relieved him from the embarrassments under which he had so long groaned, and made him in some degree independent. Still, no small portion of the funds thus collected in North and South Carolina was expended in carrying on the fruitless, endless lawsuits in Georgia.

In the United States court, held in Georgia in December, 1807 Eli Whitney obtained a most important decision, in a suit brought against a trespasser of the name of Fort. It was on this trial that Judge Johnson gave his celebrated decision. It was in the following words :—

In equity: {Whitney, survivor of Miller & Whitney, vs Arthur Fort.}

“The complainants, in this case, are proprietors of the machine called the saw gin: the use of which is to detach the short staple cotton from its seed.”

“The defendant, in violation of their patent right, has constructed, and continues to use this machine; and the object of this suit is to obtain a perpetual injunction to prevent a continuance of this infraction of complainant’s right.”

“Defendant admits most of the facts in the bill set forth, but contends that the complainants are not entitled to the benefits of the act of congress on this subject, because—“

1st. The invention is not original.
2d. Is not useful.
3d. That the machine which he uses is materially different from their invention, in the application of an improvement, the invention of another person.

“The court will proceed to make a few remarks upon the several points as they have been presented to their view: whether the defendant was now at liberty to set up this defence whilst the patent right of complainants remains un-repealed, has not been made a question, and they will therefore not consider it.

(The Judge proceeds to make statements on all 3 contentions upholding Eli Whitney’s patent.)

This favorable decision, however, did not put a final stop to aggression. At the next session of the United States court, two other actions were brought, and verdicts for damages gained of two thousand dollars in one case, and one thousand and five hundred dollars in the other.

The influence of these decisions, however, availed Mr. Whitney very little, for now the term of his patent right was nearly expired. More than sixty suits had been instituted in Georgia before a single decision on the merit, of his claim was obtained, and at the period of this decision, thirty years of his patent had expired. In prosecution of this troublesome business, Mr. Whitney had made six different journeys to Georgia, several of which were accomplished by land at a time when, compared with the present, the difficulties of such journeys were exceedingly great, and exposed him to excessive fatigues and privations, which at times seriously affected his health, and even jeopardized his life.


A gentleman of much experience, who was well acquainted with Mr. Whitney’s affairs in the south, and sometimes acted as his legal adviser, observes, that “in all his experience in the thorny profession of the law, he has never seen a case of such perseverance, under such persecution; nor,” he adds, “do I believe that I ever knew any other man who would have met them with equal coolness and firmness, or who would finally have obtained even the partial success which he had. He always called on me in New York, on his way south, when going to attend his endless trials, and to meet the mischievous contrivances of men who seemed inexhaustible in their resources of evil. Even now, after thirty years, my head aches to recollect his narratives of new trials, fresh disappointments, and accumulated wrongs.”

In 1798, Mr. Whitney became deeply impressed with the uncertainty of all his hopes founded upon the cotton gin, notwithstanding their high promise, and he began to think seriously of devoting himself to some business in which superior ingenuity, seconded by uncommon industry, qualifications which he must have been conscious of possessing in no ordinary degree, would conduct him by a slow but sure route to a competent fortune; and we have always considered it indicative of a solid judgment, and a well-balanced mind, that he did not, as is frequently the case with men of inventive genius, become so poisoned with the hopes of vast and sudden wealth, as to be disqualified for making a reasonable provision for life by the sober earnings of frugal industry.

The enterprise which he selected in accordance with these views, was the manufacture of arms for the United States. He addressed a letter to the Honorable Oliver Wolcott, secretary of the treasury, by whose influence he obtained a contract for the manufacture of ten thousand stand of arms, four thousand of which were to be delivered on or before the last of September of the ensuing year, (the contract being concluded on the 14th of January, 1798,) and the remaining six thousand within one year from that time.

(The Story of the Whitney Armory is worthy of its own article.)



Description of Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin.—The principal parts are two cylinders of different diameters, (see F H, section and plan.) mounted in a strong wooden frame, A, which are turned by means either of a handle or a pulley and belt, acting upon the axis of a fly wheel, attached to the end of the shaft, opposite to that seen in the section. Its endless band turns a large pulley on the end D of the saw cylinder F, and a smaller pulley on the end E of the brush cylinder H, (see plan,) so as to make the latter revolve with the greater rapidity.

Upon the wooden cylinder F, ten inches in diameter, are mounted, three quarters of an inch apart, fifty, sixty, or even eighty, circular saws, edged as at I, (see section,) of one foot diameter, which fit very exactly into grooves cut one inch deep into the cylinder. Each saw consists of two segments of a circle, and is preferably made of hammered (not rolled) sheet iron; the teeth must be kept very sharp.

Opposite to the interstices of the saws are flat bars of iron, which form a parallel grid of such a curvature, that the shoulder of the slanting saw tooth passes first, and then the point. By this means, when a tooth gets bent by the seeds, it resets itself by rubbing against the grid bars, instead of being torn off, as would happen did the apex of the saw tooth enter first. Care must be taken that the saws revolve in the middle of their respective grid intervals, for if they rubbed against the bars they would tear the cotton filaments to pieces.

The hollow cylinder H, is mounted with the brushes c c c, the tips of whose bristles ought to touch the saw teeth, as at d, d, (see plan,) and thus sweep off the adhering cotton wool. The cylinder H revolves in an opposite direction to the cylinder F, as is indicated by the arrows in the section.

The seed cotton, as picked from the pods, is thrown into the hopper I,, (see section;) the disc saws, I, in turning round, encounter the cotton filaments resting against the grid, catch them with their sharp teeth, and drag them inwards and upwards, while the striped seeds, too large to pass between the bars, fall through the bottom N of the hopper, upon the inclined board M. The size of the aperture N, is regulated at pleasure by an adjusting screw to suit the size of the particular species of seeds.

The saw teeth, filled with cotton wool, after returning through the grid, meet the brushes c c c of the cylinder H, and deliver it up to them; the cotton is thereafter whisked down upon the sloping table O, and thence falls into the receptacle P. A cover Q (see section) encloses both the cylinders and the hopper; this cover is turned up around the hinges as shown in the section, in order to introduce the charge of seed cotton into the machine, and is then let down before setting the wheels in gear with the driving power.

The axis ee, ff, of the cylinders (see plan) should be well fitted into their plummer box bearings, so as to prevent any lateral swagging, which would greatly injure their operation. The raised position of the cover is obvious in the section, the hinge being placed at B.

By means of the cotton gin, one man with the aid of a water wheel possessing a two horse power, can clean five thousand pounds of seed cotton in a day, eighty saws being mounted upon his machine. The cleaned wool forms generally one fourth of the weight of the seed cotton, and sometimes so much as twenty-seven per cent. The ginners are usually a distinct body from the planters, and they receive for their work, one-eighth, or one-tenth of the net weight of the cleaned cotton, under an obligation to supply all the seed required by the planter.

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