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Profile of Eli Whitney
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Hi, I'm Christina Hartman for About.com and today we're profiling one of the most important people of the Industrial Revolution: Eli Whitney - the inventor of the cotton gin.Eli Whitney was born December 8, 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts. He got started in business early in life, at the age of 14 he made nails in his father's workshop during the American Revolution. As a young man, he worked as a farmer and school teacher before entering Yale in his 30s.After graduating, Whitney planned to go to South Carolina to be a tutor but was convinced to go on to Georgia. It was there that Whitney developed the cotton gin. Before Whitney's invention, cotton fibers had to be separated from their seeds by hand -- a task that took a significant amount of time.Whitney developed a machine with teeth that would comb through the cotton and pull the seeds out -- making the process significantly faster. One gin was able to to clean 50 pounds of cotton a day. Whitney was awarded the patent for the cotton gin in 1794. In less than 20 years, U.S. cotton exports soared from less than 500,000 pounds in 1793 to 93 million in 1810 and made up more than half of U.S. exports from 1820 to 1860.Whitney is also credited with popularizing the idea of using interchangeable parts -- particularly in muskets. He developed ten muskets, all using the same parts, and took them apart in front of Congress, mixed the pieces up and then put them back together. Whitney would be unable to develop a manufacturing process to produce them on a large scale.Whitney died in 1825 in New Haven, Connecticut, and while the cotton gin proved very profitable for farmers and plantation owners, it cost Whitney significantly. A large portion of his profits went to fighting patent infringement -- often losing those cases. It has been suggested that by creating the cotton gin, Whitney inadvertently reinvigorated slavery in the South as cotton had previously not been economically viable for slave owners. On the other hand it is also thought that his idea of interchangeable parts helped contributed to the North's victory in the Civil War.
And that's a look at Eli Whitney - the inventor of the cotton gin. For more information, be sure to check out About.com.
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