The Invention of the Cotton Gin

Source: Correspondence of Eli Whitney, in American Historical RevieW (New York, 1898), 111, pp. 99-101.

Sept. Ilth, 1793.

DEAR PARENT, I received your letter of the 16th of August with peculiar satisfaction and delight. It gave me no small pleasure to hear of your health and was very happy to be informed that your health and that of the family has been so good since I saw you. I have fortunately just beard from you by Mr. Robbinson who says you were well when he left Westboro. When I wrote you last I expected to have been able to come to Westboro' sooner than I now fear will be in my power. I presume, sh, you are-desirous to hear how I have spent my time since I ieft College. This I conceive you have a right to know and that it is my duty to inform you and should have done it before this time; but I thought I could do it better by verbal communication than by writing, and expecting to see you soon, I omitted it. As I now have a safe and direct opportunity- to send by Mr. Robbinson, I will give you a sumary account of my southern expedition.

I went from N. York with the family of the late Major General Greene to Georgia. I went immediately with the family to their Plantation about twelve miles from Savannah with an expectation of spending four or five days and then proceed into Carolina to take the school as I have mentioned in former letters. During this time I beard much said of the extreme difficulty of ginning Cotton, that is, seperating it from its seeds. There were a number of very respectable Gentlemen at Mrs. Greene's who all agreed that if a macbine could be invented which would clean the cotton with expeditiont it would be a great thing both to the Country and to the inventor. I involuntarily happened to be thinking on the subject and struck out a plan of a Machine in my mind, which I communicated to Miller, (who is agent to the Executors of Gent Greene and resides in the family, a man of respectibility and property) he was pleased with the Plan and said if I would pursue it and try an experiment to see if it would answer, he wouldbe at the whole expense, I should loose nothing but my time, and if I succeeded we would share the profits. Previous to this I found I was like to be disappointed in my school, that is, instead of a hundred, I found I could get only fifty Guineas a year. I however held the refusal of the school untill I tried some experiments. In about ten Days I made a little model, for which I was offered, if I would give up all right and title to it, a Hundred Guineas. I concluded to relinquish iny school and turn my attention to perfecting the Machine. I made one before I came away which required the labor of one man to turn it and with which one man will clean ten times as much cotton as be can in any other way before known and also cleanse it much better than in the Usual inode. This rnacbine may be turned by water or with a horse, with the grcatcst case, and one man and horse will do more than fifty men with the old machines. It makes the labor fifty times less, without throwing any class of People out of business.

I returned to the Northward for the purpose of having a machine made on a large scale and obtaining a Patent for the invention. . . . How advantageous this business will eventually prove to me, I cannot say. It is generally said by those who know anything about it, that I shall make a Fortune by it. I have no expectation that I shall make an independent fortune by it, but think I had better pursue it than any other business into which I can enter. Something which cannot be foreseen may frustrate my expectations and defeat my Plan; but I am now so sure of success that ten thousand dollars, if I saw the money counted out to me, would not tempt me to give up my right and relinquish the object. I wish you, Sir, not to show this letter nor communicate anything of its contents to any body except My Brothers and Sister, enjoining it on them to keep the whole a profound secret.

With respects to Mama I am,
kind Parent, your most obt. Son Mr. Eli Whitney.
Eli Whitney, Junr.