MassMoments reminds us today that on this day – March 14, 1794 – Massachusetts native Eli Whitney applied for a patent on one of his many inventions – the cotton gin (engine). This machine was simple but it made separating the seeds from the field-grown cotton less time consuming and thus cotton became a profitable crop.
Whitney turned his genius to other areas. Whitney wanted to enable unskilled laborers to make complex products. He managed this by designing products (his test case was rifles) with interchangeable parts. This led to a mass production system - what became known as the “American System” – that allowed for an unprecedented boom in American industry, and eventually provided employment for thousands of workers who were unwilling or unable to acquire apprenticeships in skilled crafts.
…in 1794, Westborough native Eli Whitney applied for a patent on the cotton gin. Raised on a farm in Massachusetts, he invented a machine that made growing cotton so profitable that the South became a “cotton kingdom” where millions of Africans toiled in slavery. After nearly a decade in the South, Whitney returned to New England and developed what became known as the “American System” of manufacture. He designed machines that turned out standardized, interchangeable parts. These machines made mass production possible and were critical to the coming Industrial Revolution. Eli Whitney’s innovations transformed the economy first of the American South and later of the North.