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Who is Eli Whitney?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Eli Whitney was an American inventor, engineer, manufacturer and pioneer. He is remembered most for inventing the cotton gin. However, Eli Whitney also pioneered the industry changing concept of mass production in the United States.

Whitney was born 8 December 1765 in Westboro, Massachusetts. In childhood, Eli liked to take household items apart to see how they worked. For example, he once took apart his father's watch and was able to put it back in perfect working order. At age 12, Eli Whitney created a violin, and before he entered college, he had his own business selling hatpins and walking sticks. Whitney graduated from Yale College in 1792.

The first model of Eli Whitney's cotton gin took him only about ten days from his earliest sketch. He had thought about what the South needed to efficiently make a profit from the cotton industry and his answer was a machine to clean the cottonseed from the short-staple fiber of the cotton. Whitney applied for a patent for his machine on 20 June 1793 and by the following March he received the patent. Whitney's cotton gin did bring prosperity to the American South, but not to him personally.

Others stole Eli Whitney's ideas and made and sold less expensive cotton gins to cotton planters, causing Whitney's company to go broke. From then on, Eli refused to seek patents for any of his inventions. Instead, Eli Whitney concentrated on creating mass production in the United States. He developed the assembly line and other techniques that businessmen such as Henry Ford used.

Eli built a firearms manufacturing factory in New Haven, Connecticut and was given a government contract to produce 10,000 of the type of long gun known as a musket. Eli Whitney's manufacturing system featured interchangeable parts so that workers could assemble the muskets without any gunsmithing experience. This made his operation less expensive and high volume. Whitney became a wealthy man.

Whitney married Henrietta Edwards 6 January 1817 and the couple had four children. While his children were still young, Eli Whitney became ill with prostate problems and was in a lot of pain. Whitney actually invented medical equipment to relieve some of the pain. Eli Whitey died 8 January 1825 in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Discussion Comments

By anon256630 — On Mar 22, 2012

I wonder if Eli Whitney's children continued their fathers work. Making interchangeable parts and whatnot more modern and useful.

By googie98 — On Mar 09, 2011


In my opinion, it is all nonsense. Before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, there were a lot of small jobs to do, such as removing the seeds out of the cotton. When the cotton gin came around, it made it so simple that everyone started buying land to grow cotton.

Here was the problem: Everyone had all of this land and plenty of cotton fields but no one to harvest the cotton. People started buying slaves to work in the fields.

Out of that, people started blaming Whitney for slavery because so many slaves were bought after the cotton gin came around.

By StormyKnight — On Mar 07, 2011

I have heard many people associate Eli Whitney with slavery. What could he possibly have to do with slavery?

By SnowyWinter — On Mar 05, 2011

The old musket factory was preserved as a museum to recognize and remember Eli Whitney and all of his accomplishments.

I learned a lot about Eli Whitney in a history class and his biography is fascinating.

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