Sunday, September 30, 2007
Eli Whitney 1765-1825
By Richard E. Noble
If there were no Eli Whitney there may have been no Civil War.
What do you think about that? Does seem rather far-fetched, doesn’t it? Eli Whitney, as we all know, invented the Cotton Gin, whatever the heck that is, and then became a multi-millionaire, right?
Wrong. The Cotton Gin was one of those simple inventions that once you saw it, and if you were of the mechanical type, you could put one together yourself. So old Eli was constructing his Cotton Gin down South with a bunch of good-old-boy, shade-tree, mechanic types peeking in through the cracks of his barn. No sooner did he complete his Cotton Gin than every good-ole boy in the neighborhood had one, and was buzzing it around his cotton field, or whatever they do with a Cotton Gin. Eli yelled and screamed and sued everybody that he could possibly sue, but never got very much for all his efforts.
But aside from all of this, I am told, that his little invention revived a slave industry that may have been on its way out in America. Believe it or not they say that the slave industry was all but fading out in the South due to the economics of keeping slaves.
To keep a slave healthy and in working condition, cost bucks; and if the slave owner couldn’t figure out a way that his slave could make him more than he cost him - them damn slaves had to go. Even poor slave holders, and there were a bunch of them, were getting tired of planting another row of peas for lazy old Amos. And around the rest of the world, moral indignation was rising against the concept of some people owning some other people. Besides, why have the trouble and upkeep of owning and caring for a slave when you could rent an Irishman or some other starving immigrant by the hour, and you didn’t have to worry about where he slept or got his vitamin pills, and if he died he died.
Even after the Civil War there were black intellectuals and authors who denounced the immorality of replacing bodily, chattel slavery with the even worse moral outrage of wage-slavery.
But, getting back to old Eli, it seems that at just about the time that slave owning folk were tiring of maintaining their slaves, old Eli invented the Cotton Gin which made having a captured labor force once again a profitable endeavor. Even slaves that had been freed were rounded up once again and harnessed up to Eli’s old Cotton Gin.
But although Eli made very few dollars on his Cotton Gin he eventually made up for the loss by designing a rifle for the government with interchangeable parts. Actually Eli was America’s first Henry Ford. He initiated the notion of interchangeable parts and had his rifles put together on an “assembly line”.