Eli Whitney (1765-1825)

American Lawyer and inventor. Born on 8 December 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts. After graduating with a law degree from Yale University in 1792 he moved to Savannah, Georgia to become a tutor. There, Whitney became acquainted with Mrs Nathanael Green, the widow of a revolutionary general who made him aware of the local need for a machine to pick cotton.

Whitney formed a business partnership in 1793 with Phineus Millar and set about inventing and building the cotton gin (gin being short for engine). The machine, patented in march the following year, was hand cranked and could produce about 50 lb. (23 Kg) of cleaned cotton per day. This was equal to a fifty-fold increase in a worker’s output. Introduction of the machine led to the expansion of the plantations and increased demand for labour, which in turn led to the increasing use of slaves.

Whitney also built an arms factory in New Haven where he used skilled workers and machine tools to make arms with fully interchangeable parts. He introduced division of labour in his arms factory, which formed the beginnings of a production line and mass production. Both federal armouries later adopted these methods of production. Eli Whitney died in Newhaven, Connecticut on 8 January 1825.