Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom (2023)

When Eli Whitney left New England for the South in 1792, little did he know he would be patenting a machine that would change the course of American history forever. While in the South, Whitney quickly learned that Southern plantation owners were eager to find a way to make growing cotton profitable. Whitney knew that if he could invent such a machine, he could apply for a patent with the federal government.Keep reading...

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The links go toDocsHouse, the online teaching tool with documents from the National Archives.

Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom (1)

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(Video) Eli Whitney: Father of American Technology - Fast Facts | History

Eli Whitney's Cotton Spinner's Patent Drawing, 1794

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Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom (3)

Cotton loom patent analysis in DocsTeachHave students study Eli Whitney's cotton gin patent drawing.

(Video) Eli Whitney's Invention

Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom (4)

EmA Petition for the Cotton Loom on DocsTeach, students will discuss Eli Whitney's petition to Congress to renew the patent on his infamous invention: the cotton gin. A loophole in the Patents Act of 1793 allowed competitors to manufacture cotton ginning without its permission. Although he sought a remedy for this patent infringement in court, he was not always successful. Whitney filed this petition with Congress because his patent was about to expire.

Additional historical information

Eli Whitney and the Need for Invention

Eli Whitney, a fresh graduate of Yale, had thought about becoming a lawyer. But like many new college graduates, he first had debt to pay and needed a job. He reluctantly left his native Massachusetts to work as a tutor on a Georgia plantation.

(Video) The Cotton Gin - An Infamous Invention

There, Whitney quickly learned that Southern plantation owners were looking for a way to make growing cotton profitable at a time when tobacco was losing profits due to oversupply and soil depletion. Long-staple cotton, which could easily be separated from its seeds, could only be grown along the coast. The only variety that grew indoors had sticky green seeds that took a long time to remove from soft white cottonseeds. Whitney's employer, plantation owner Catherine Greene, encouraged Whitney to find a solution to this problem. Your financial support would be critical to its success.

Whitney knew that if he could invent such a machine, he could apply for a patent with the federal government. If granted, you will have exclusive rights to your invention for 14 years under the Patents Act 1790 and can expect to make a nice profit from it.

The Constitution and Patent Law

The Constitution authorizes Congress to "promote the advancement of science and the useful arts, by securing to authors and inventors, for a limited time, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. Patent law must carefully balance the inventor's rights to benefit from his invention (through the grant of a temporary monopoly) with the needs of society at large to benefit from new ideas.

The Patents Act of 1790 allowed the government to patent "any useful art, manufacture, machine, machine or device, or any instrument not hitherto known or used". The Patents Act of 1793 gave the Secretary of State the power to grant a patent to anyone who submitted drawings of work, a written description, a model and paid an application fee. Requirements and procedures have changed over time. Currently, the US Patent and Trademark Office is under the auspices of the Department of Commerce.

Whitney patents a cotton gin

Hoping to produce a patentable machine, Whitney put aside her plans to go to law school and instead spent the winter and spring in a secret workshop made available by Catherine Greene. Whitney received a patent for a cotton gin in 1794 (his idea for it was based on earlier gins as well as the ideas of others, including Greene and slave laborers—some say these were the true inventors of the cotton gin). Greene and her husband Phineas Miller funded Whitney and the ensuing lawsuit.

A small gin can be made by hand; larger versions can be hitched to a horse or powered by water power. "A man and a horse make more than fifty men with the old machines", Whitney wrote his father, "those who know it usually say I will make a fortune out of it." But patenting an invention and profiting from it are two different things.

(Video) Eli Whitney Invents The Cotton Gin

Originally, Whitney opted to produce as many gins as possible, growing them throughout Georgia and the South and charging farmers a ginning fee. His rate was two-fifths of the profits paid to them on the cotton itself. However, Georgia farmers and plantation owners resented having to go to Whitney Gins, where they had to pay what they considered an exorbitant tax. They began making their own versions of Whitney gin, claiming they were "new" inventions. Greene and Miller brought costly lawsuits against the owners of these pirated copies, but due to a loophole in the wording of the Patents Act of 1793, they were unable to win a lawsuit until 1800, when the law was changed.

Struggling for profit and embroiled in legal battles, Whitney and his partners finally agreed to license gins at a reasonable price. In 1802, South Carolina agreed to purchase Whitney's patent rights for $50,000, but was slow to pay. The partners also agreed to sell the patent rights to North Carolina and Tennessee. When Georgia Whitney's courts ruled that she lacked patent protection, she only had one year left on her patent. In 1808 and again in 1812, he petitioned Congress to renew his patent.

Effects of cotton removers

After the invention of the cotton gin, raw cotton production doubled every decade after 1800. Demand was fueled by other inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as spinning and weaving machines and the steamship for transportation. In 1850, the United States produced three-quarters of the world's cotton supply, most of which was shipped to New England or exported to England, where the fabrics were produced. During this period, the value of tobacco dropped, rice exports stagnated at best, and sugar began to flourish, but only in Louisiana. By the mid-nineteenth century, the South provided three-fifths of American exports, most of it in the form of cotton.

However, the most significant effect of the cotton gin was the increase in slavery. While it was true that the cotton gin reduced the labor of removing seeds, it did not reduce the need for slave labor to plant and harvest cotton. In fact, the opposite happened. Cotton cultivation became so profitable for slaveholders that the demand for land and slave labor greatly increased. In 1790 there were six "slave states"; By 1860, there were 15. From 1790 until Congress banned the African slave trade in 1808, Southerners imported 80,000 Africans. In 1860, about one in three Southerners was enslaved.

Because of the cotton gin, slaves worked on ever-larger plantations, where work was more regimented and unforgiving. As large plantations spread across the southwest, slave labor and land prices stunted the growth of cities and industries. In the 1850s, seven-eighths of all immigrants settled in the North, where they found 72% of the country's manufacturing capacity.


Although Eli Whitney is best remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin, he was also the father of the mass production method. In 1798 he discovered how to machine muskets so that the parts were interchangeable. Whitney eventually became wealthy as a musket maker. He died in 1825.

(Video) Eli Whitney Jr. was an American inventor of the cotton gin

This text is taken from an article by Joan Brodsky Schur, a teacher at the Village Community School in New York, NY.

Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom (5) Materials produced by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.


Eli Whitney's patent for the cotton loom? ›

Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin in 1794 (his idea was based on earlier gins and also on ideas from other people, including Greene and enslaved laborers; some say that these were the rightful inventors of the cotton gin).

Does Eli Whitney have a patent for the cotton gin? ›

Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin in 1794 (his idea was based on earlier gins and also on ideas from other people, including Greene and enslaved laborers; some say that these were the rightful inventors of the cotton gin).

What problem did Eli Whitney have regarding the patent of the cotton gin? ›

On March 14, 1794, Whitney received a patent for his gin. Because the American patent system was relatively new and untested — Whitney's patent was number 72 — he found it difficult to keep competitors from copying his simple machine.

What was the cotton gin Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin to do? ›

Designed to separate cotton fiber from seed, Whitney's cotton gin, for which he received a patent on March 14, 1794, introduced a new, profitable technology to agricultural production in America. The cotton gin is a device for removing the seeds from cotton fiber.

Why didn t Eli Whitney make a lot of money off his invention of the cotton gin? ›

Despite its success, the gin made little money for Whitney due to patent-infringement issues. Also, his invention offered Southern planters a justification to maintain and expand slavery even as a growing number of Americans supported its abolition.

What is the patent number for the cotton gin? ›

COTTON-GIN. SPECIFICATION formingpart of Letters Patent No. 255,943, dated April 4, 1882.

What is a cotton gin and who patented it? ›

cotton gin, machine for cleaning cotton of its seeds, invented in the United States by Eli Whitney in 1793.

What problem did Eli Whitney solve by inventing the cotton gin quizlet? ›

What problem with cotton did Eli Whitney solve by inventing the cotton gin? Removing seeds from the cotton was a slow and painstaking task, but Whitney made it much easier and less labor-intensive.

What was the purpose of the cotton gin? ›

The gin separated the sticky seeds from the fibers in short-staple cotton, which was easy to grow in the deep South but difficult to process. The gin improved the separation of the seeds and fibers but the cotton still needed to be picked by hand.

Was slavery profitable before the cotton gin? ›

Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, slavery was in decline. The profitably of crops grown with slave labor, such as rice, tobacco, indigo and cotton was steadily decreasing. Some slaveholders began freeing their slaves in response.

Why was the invention of the cotton gin such a big deal? ›

The cotton gin made cotton tremendously profitable, which encouraged westward migration to new areas of the US South to grow more cotton. The number of enslaved people rose with the increase in cotton production, from 700,000 in 1790 to over three million by 1850.

How did Whitney and Miller plan to make money off the cotton gin? ›

After considering possible options, Whitney and his business partner, Phineas Miller, opted to produce as many gins as possible, install them throughout Georgia and the South, and charge farmers a fee for doing the ginning for them. Their charge was two-fifths of the profit -- paid to them in cotton itself.

Was the cotton gin good or bad? ›

Invented in 1793, the cotton gin changed history for good and bad. By allowing one field hand to do the work of 10, it powered a new industry that brought wealth and power to the American South -- but, tragically, it also multiplied and prolonged the use of slave labor.

Why was cotton not grown before the invention of the cotton gin? ›

Before the cotton gin, cotton was a troublesome crop. Its fiber could only be separated from the sticky, embedded seeds by hand, a grueling and exhausting process.

Who patented the cotton gin in 1794? ›

On this day in 1794, young inventor Eli Whitney had his U.S. patent for the cotton gin approved, an invention that would have a great impact on social and economic conditions that led to the Civil War.

Where was the cotton gin patented? ›

The modern cotton gin, first patented by Massachusetts native Eli Whitney while in Georgia in 1793, is a simple machine that separates cotton fibers from the seeds.

What was the petition of Eli Whitney requesting the renewal of his patent on the cotton gin? ›

In 1808 and 1812, Whitney petitioned Congress to renew his cotton gin patent. His 1812 petition was referred to Representatives William Lowndes, Timothy Pitkin, Bolling Hall, Hugh Nelson, and Edwin Gray, but was not approved.

How many patents did Eli Whitney have? ›

He never patented his later inventions, one of which was a milling machine. Whitney learned much from his experience. He knew his own competence and integrity, which were acknowledged and respected.


1. Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin
(History with Me)
2. Eli Whitney - Inventor of the Cotton Gin | Mini Bio | BIO
3. The Cotton Gin and Slavery [Invention that changed America] | Daily Bellringer
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4. How inventions change history (for better and for worse) - Kenneth C. Davis
5. Whitney's Cotton Gin
6. Story of Us Cotton Gin
(Mr Bacalles)


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