Inventors are inspirational. Eli Whitney was an inventor and businessman. He is remembered best for inventing the cotton gin. There can be positives and negatives with inventions and this is the case with the cotton gin. The cotton gin made separating seeds and cotton fiber much less labor intensive, however it also strengthened cotton as a crop and slavery as an institution. Whitney did not become rich with the invention, because there were legal battles over patent infringement. Whitney began, therefore, making muskets for the United States Army. He continued inventing as well.
Eli Whitney was born on December 8, 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts, in then British America. His mother, Elizabeth Fay, died when he was young. A couple of years later he began operating a profitable nail manufacturing operation in his father, Eli Whitney Sr.’s, workshop. He went to Leicester Academy and then Yale College. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1792. He decided to take a job as a private tutor in South Carolina, but wound up meeting people and going to Georgia. There he decided to go into business with Phineas Miller. The cotton gin and then the milling machine manufacturing muskets with interchangeable parts dominated Whitney’s business. Interchange parts was significant to the Industrial Revolution.
Cotton gin litigation and then his cotton gin factory burning to the ground had Eli Whitney in debt. Whitney got a contract to manufacture guns for the new American government in 1798. He did not deliver until 1809. Whitney justified the cost of his muskets by including fixed costs. This contributed cost accounting to private industry.
Eli Whitney married Henrietta Edwards in 1817. They had four children. Whitney died on January 8, 1825 of prostate cancer. He invented devices to ease his pain while ill, but they were never manufactured. The Eli Whitney Students Program at Yale University was named in his honor in 1982. This program is for nontraditional students, since Whitney was 23 when he graduated. Be inspired! Have a bright day!