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The cotton gin is a device that separates cotton seeds from cotton fiber, making the production of cotton easier and cheaper.

Development and Effects of the Cotton Gin

In 1793, a man from Massachusetts named Eli Whitney invented a machine that would alter the course of American History forever. As a young man, Whitney worked on a plantation in Georgia as a tutor for children. While working on the plantation, Whitney observed slaves struggling to separate the cotton seeds from the cotton fabric by hand. Over the next few months, Whitney designed and built a novel invention known as the cotton gin. The cotton gin is a device that separates cotton seeds from cotton fiber.

Although Whitney believed his new invention would help to solve a problem, what he did not envision was the problems that it would eventually cause. The cotton gin quickly became a necessity on cotton plantations as this device allowed for cotton to be produced in higher quantities and for a cheaper price. Whitney’s invention lead to a higher demand for slave labor along these southern cotton-producing plantations and thus creating a further division in America between the pro-slave states and those which were arguing for abolitionism.

The cotton gin created a global cotton industry as demand for textiles boomed throughout the world. The true cost of the plantation economy came through the inhumane and barbaric slave labor system on which it depended. This dependency on slave labor would tear the young American republic apart which would result in the bloodiest conflict in American History, the Civil War. Some historians argue that this one simple invention became a major catalyst for the American Civil War.

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