The discovery of short-staple cotton was a major turning point not only in America’s economic history, but as well as utilization of slaves. Initially, the short-staple cotton variety had no commercial value as it had shorter cotton fibers, which reduces yarn and cloth quality, and fibers that were tightly attached to the seed, causing a longer time to separate the actual fiber from the seed without damaging it. On the other hand, the long-staple cotton fibers were exactly the opposite of their short cotton counterparts which was why the majority of fiber production was done using the longer variety (Philipps, 2004).
However, in 1793, Eli Whitney invented a machine called, “cotton gin,” that enabled mass production of short-stapled cotton. The cotton gin, which was the short term for “cotton engine,” used wire teeth attached into a rotating wooden cylinder to snare the cotton fibers and pull them through a grate. The slots in this grate were too narrow for the cotton seed to pass, so that the fibers were pulled away from the seed (Philipps, 2004).
This invention eliminated the long and tedious task of removing the short cotton fiber from the seed and reduced the risk of damaging it. However, although the cotton was produced in large quantities, the cotton gin significantly reduced the quality of the fiber, causing resistance from English buyers. But due to the need to further expand the production of cotton and due to the assurance that cotton production would cost lower using the cotton gin, the American South decided to proceed using the short-staple variety.
The adaptation of the short staple cotton and the cotton gin caused significant changes in the US South, most of important of which is that it led to the first United States patent system, which described who has exclusive rights over the machine. It also led to the use of more slaves as the operation of cotton gins required little skill. The production of the short stapled cotton boosted the economy of the South and resulted in the country being one of the chief exporters of cotton today (Murrin, 2006).Murrin, J. M. (2006). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Phillips, W. H. (2004). Economic History Services: Cotton Gin. Retrieved October 18, 2007 from http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/phillips.cottongin