A Very Brief History of Cotton

The history of cotton is ancient. Cotton has been grown for thousands of years. There is documentation that cotton was growing on the Earth before Christ was born.  Historians have been able to determine that cotton was growing on the Earth at least seven thousand years ago. The oldest location cotton has been found was in Mexico. Inside an ancient cave there were tiny bits of cotton bolls and of cotton cloth.

The history of cotton dates back to around 3000 BC in Pakistan. Archaeologists unearthed tiny cotton fragments there on digs. Historical documents from India mention cotton in writings dating as far back as 1500 BC.  The consensus for some time seems to have been that the cultivation of cotton began in India. As mentioned earlier, cotton has been found in other parts of the world, dating further back, but those areas are believed to have been sightings of wild cotton. Cotton does grow wild in some parts of the world.

The history of cotton in the United States dates back to the American Indians. There is documentation as far back as the 1500’s and the Coronado expedition to America that speaks of cotton crops. In 1556 Spanish settlers raised a crop of cotton in Florida. In 1607 the first cotton seed was planted by colonists along the James River in Virginia.

In the early 1700’s, it was against the law, to either import or manufacture cloth from cotton in England. This was during the height of the British Empire.  This law was put into effect to help protect the English wool industry.

While American colonists knew how to grow cotton, they lacked what they needed mechanically to maximize production. In 1790 Samuel Slater came to America. Slater had been a cotton mill worker in England. Upon his arrival, Slater constructed the first American cotton mill strictly from his memory of the mill he worked at back in England.

The cotton mill was a move in the right direction, but cotton was still so slow to clean. Production was limited as a result. Eli Whitney recognized this fact and saw a desperate need for a better way beyond hand cleaning to remove the cotton fibers from the seed.  In 1793, he invented the cotton gin. This invention sped up the separation process of removing the cotton from the seed so dramatically that it revolutionized the industry.

Prior to the cotton gin being invented, only one pound could be cleaned per day per worker. A cotton gin could clean 55 pounds of cotton per day. This increase in cotton production completely revolutionized the cotton industry worldwide and is easily one of the most important contributions to the history of cotton.
In 1850 an automated picking machine was invented. Shortly afterwards a stripper machine that could remove bolls and other trash from the plant before picking was introduced. These advancements continued to improve cotton production in a huge way, changing the history of cotton, making it an even more important cash crop worldwide.

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