American inventor Eli Whitney is most famous for patenting the cotton gin, although he made most of his fortune as an arms manufacturer.

Painting by William Hoogland, courtesy of the Library of Congress
  • On March 14, 1794, inventor Eli Whitney patented on the cotton gin. A patent gives the patent-holder (usually the inventor) all the rights associated with their invention for a certain period of time. Whitney, however, did not profit from his invention, because he couldn’t stop other people from copying and selling his design. 

    The cotton gin revolutionized American agriculture. Cotton grows on seeds, and the soft, fluffy part of the cotton needs to be separated from the seeds before it can be used for things like clothes and cotton balls. Before the cotton gin was invented, people (often, slaves) had to separate the cotton from the seeds—an incredibly time-consuming and difficult task. The cotton gin mechanically separated the seed from the cotton, and cotton was harvested more easily and efficiently. 

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    cotton Noun

    cloth made from fibers of the cotton plant.

    cotton gin Noun

    machine that separates the cotton material from its seeds.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    inventor Noun

    person who creates a new idea, machine, product, device, or process.

    patent Noun

    legal right to make or sell an invention.

    profit Noun

    money earned after production costs and taxes are subtracted.

    revolutionize Verb

    to completely change a process or way of doing something.

    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.