Houghton Mifflin Textbook -
InstructorsStudentsReviewersAuthorsBooksellers Contact Us
Textbook Site for:
The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin
Houghton Mifflin Company

Instructors' Note
Most students with no experience in cotton farming will be unfamiliar with the operation of the cotton gin. Many are content simply knowing that Eli Whitney invented the gin and that the gin increased cotton production. The gin was simple enough to do a bit more. The purpose of this activity is therefore to combine visual learning with practice in writing a fairly elementary description to reach a greater understanding of the technology. You may wish to broaden the discussion by asking students to comment on the cotton gin's effect on the extension of slavery.

Separating the cotton seeds from the cotton fiber was a labor-intensive proposition before the invention of the cotton gin. As you watch the operation of the gin, think both about the relatively simple construction of the machine and how the gin reduced the labor involved in this phase of cotton production.

Questions to Consider
  1. Play the animation several times. Write a paragraph describing how the cotton gin operates.

  2. According to legend, Eli Whitney conceived of the idea of the gin in two ways: by watching a cat reach through a fence, try for a chicken, and come away with nothing but feathers and by hearing Catherine Green say as she handed him a hearth brush, "Mr. Whitney, here's what you need," to remove the seeds from the cotton. How does the gin's operation illustrate these anecdotes?

  3. Evaluate the cotton gin's effect on Southern agriculture.


Animation of a cotton gin

The Shockwave PlugIn from Macromedia is required to view the cotton gin animation. If the plugin is not already installed on your computer, you can download it now from Macromedia.