WHITNEY AND HOWE
FEW men have done more for the welfare of mankind
than did Eli Whitney. He did not discover a new land,
nor did he explore the untrodden wilderness or win a great
battle. He invented a machine which revolutionized the
Eli Whitney was a native of Massachusetts. At
nineteen he made up his mind to go to college. As his
father did not see fit to send him,
he earned the necessary money
himself. Partly by teaching and
partly by odd jobs at carpentry,
he gathered enough to pay his
way through Yale University.
In 1792 he was graduated.
Soon after, Whitney secured
a position as tutor in a Georgia
family. But when he reached
the South, he found the place
filled. So he decided to study
law. On the trip south he had
become acquainted with Mrs.
Greene, the widow of General Nathanael Greene, of
Revolutionary fame. Hearing of his disappointment, Mrs.
Greene now cordially invited him to make her plantation
his home while he was studying law.
 Whitney did many little things for his hostess to show
that he appreciated her kindness. He made toys for the
children and an embroidery frame for Mrs. Greene, which
was an immense improvement over the awkward
old-fashioned one she had been using. In fact, he had what
has long been known as "Yankee ingenuity."
One day Mrs. Greene had as guests a number of plantation
owners. They were speaking about the raising of
cotton, and of how the value of the crop would be vastly
increased if only some one could invent a machine that
would strip the seeds from the cotton fiber. Mrs. Greene
advised the men to lay the problem before her young
friend, Eli Whitney. They explained the matter to him;
but as he had not even seen the cotton fiber and its seeds,
he was afraid he could do nothing. However, he said he
At the time Whitney went to Georgia, cotton seeds
were picked from the fiber by hand. It used to take
a negro a whole day to clean a single pound of cotton,
and it took many slaves several months to clean an entire
crop. Because of this vast amount of labor, the planters
could not raise cotton at a profit. But if only some one
could invent a cotton cleaner, the profits on cotton would
be immense. This then was Whitney's problem.
All winter long he tinkered. By the spring of 1793
he had succeeded in contriving a machine with which
one man could clean one thousand pounds of cotton in
The machine consisted of two cylinders. On one were
rows of teeth, which pulled the cotton through a grating
too fine for the seeds to pass through. The other cylinder
was covered with little brushes, which, as they met the
teeth, brushed the cotton from them into a place
prepared to catch it. And all this was done without in any
 way harming the seeds for the many uses they could be
Whitney called the machine a cotton gin, "gin" being
a contraction of the word "engine." He let only Mrs.
Greene and a few
others see his model.
Yet, before long,
nearly everyone in
the South was talking about his wonderful invention; and,
careful as he was,
his shop was broken
into, and his model
was stolen. Before
he could make another and get it patented there were
several cotton gins in
operation. All were copied from his stolen model, and it
was years before Whitney recived justice in connection
with his great invention.
A SECTION OF THE COTTON GIN, SHOWING THE
COTTON PASSING FROM THE FEEDER OVER THE CYLINDERS.
Immediately after the invention of the cotton gin the
planters began to increase the size of their cotton fields,
and every year more and more cotton was raised. In
1784 America exported three thousand pounds. In
1803, ten years after the cotton gin came into use, forty
million pounds were exported.
Since Whitney's time, the increase in production has
lowered the price of cotton goods from a dollar and fifty
cents a yard to as low as five cents a yard, thus enabling
the very poorest to buy cotton cloth.
And all this is due to Eli Whitney's cotton gin, and
has been brought about in a little over a century. The
 cotton gin has helped not only the Southern cotton growers,
but also the manufacturers of both North and South. It
has done much to improve our foreign trade, and so has
helped the commerce of the country at large.
Improvements have been made upon the original cotton gin, but the
Americans of the twentieth century owe as much to Eli
Whitney's invention as did those of a hundred years ago.
IN colonial days making clothes was no easy matter.
There are many, many stitches in even one simple
garment. And when you think how many garments are
necessary for one child, you can imagine how busy the
mother of a large family must have been, when each stitch
had to be done by hand.
There were traveling tailors, it is true, who would
come and stay with a family and make the coats and
trousers, and there were traveling cobblers, who made
the shoes. But every family could not afford to pay these
helpers, and even those who could, had to make many
other things besides coats and trousers and shoes. So,
day after day and evening after evening saw the women
of the family busily sewing, sewing, sewing, one stitch at
a time, and all done by hand.
One mother whose evenings were spent in this way
was Mrs. Elias Howe. Her husband was a poor young
man. They lived in Boston and Mr. Howe worked in a
Boston shop where machines were made for spinning and
weaving. The old way of spinning and weaving was
very slow, but by the use of these machines much time
and labor were saved.
Mr. Howe was not very strong and his day's work
tired him out. At night, fairly exhausted, he would lie
 down and rest. And as he rested, his eyes watched his
wife's patient fingers sending her needle in and out, in and
out. He knew she was tired, too, for she had three little
children to care for all day as well as her house work to do.
Still, she could not rest in the evening. She must sew every
night to keep the children in clothes and add to her
husband's small earnings. It seemed a pity. Wasn't there
some easier way to do the same thing?
Several men had tried to make a sewing machine but
none had succeeded. Surely, it was possible to make such
a machine and Elias Howe decided to try. At the shop
he gave every spare minute to his plans. His first machine
had a needle pointed at both ends with an eye in the
middle. For more than a year he tried to make this
succeed. Next, he used two threads, making the stitch
by means of a shuttle. This time he used a curved
needle. And, this time, he had a machine which would
By now Howe had given up his place in the shop and
was poorer than ever. Fortunately, he was able to interest
a Mr. Fisher in his machine, and Mr. Fisher took Howe
and his family to board and furnished him the money to
make a better machine than his rough model. In return
for all this Mr. Fisher was to be half owner of the patent
when it was secured.
By the spring of 1845, the new machine was made
and, in 1846, was patented. Can you believe that such
an invention was feared rather than received with joy?
Tailors admitted that it might be useful, but they would
have nothing to do with it. They and others who made
their living by sewing thought it would ruin their trade.
They talked against it and said it would throw many
people out of work.
Mr. Fisher grew discouraged and withdrew from his
 agreement. Howe took his family to his father's home.
And, now, came harder times than ever for the inventor and
those dependent on him. He even went to England and
tried to make something out of his invention over there.
But, when he reached New York again, months later, he
had less than a dollar in his pockets.
What was worse, while he was away, others had made
copies of his machine and sold them. Sure of his patent,
however, Howe began suits against these people and
finally, after years of poverty and struggle, his rights
were fully established and all manufacturers of the
machine were forced to pay him a royalty.
Gradually, the usefulness of the sewing machine
overcame the opposition to it, and it became a necessity. In
1863 Elias Howe's royalties were said to be $4,000 a day.
Of course, many improvements on Howe's machine
were later made by others. In these he was much interested,
and doubtless remembering his own hard times, he
gladly helped their makers with advice, or money, or both.
In his triumph, he was the soul of generosity to those
working to follow where he had led.