Eli Whitney, Jr.

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Eli Whitney (December 8, 1765 – January 8, 1825) was an American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin. This was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the economy of the antebellum South.[1] Whitney's invention made short staple cotton into a profitable crop, which strengthened the economic foundation of slavery in the United States (regardless of whether Whitney intended that). Despite the social and economic impact of his invention, Whitney lost his profits in legal battles over patent infringement, closed his business and nearly filed for bankruptcy.


Early life

Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765, the eldest child of Eli Whitney Sr., a prosperous farmer. His mother, Elizabeth Fay of Westborough, died when he was 11.[2] At age 14 he operated a profitable nail manufacturing operation in his father's workshop during the Revolutionary War.[3]

Because his stepmother opposed his wish to attend college, Whitney worked as a farm laborer and schoolteacher to save money. He prepared for Yale at Leicester Academy (now Becker College) and under the tutelage of Rev. Elizur Goodrich of Durham, Connecticut, he entered the Class of 1789, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1792.[1][4] Whitney expected to study law but, finding himself short of funds, accepted an offer to go to South Carolina as a private tutor.

Instead of reaching his destination, he was convinced to visit Georgia.[3] In the closing years of the 18th century, Georgia was a magnet for New Englanders seeking their fortunes (its Revolutionary-era governor had been Lyman Hall, a migrant from Connecticut). When he initially sailed for South Carolina, among his shipmates were the widow and family of Revolutionary hero, Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island. Mrs. Greene invited Whitney to visit her Georgia plantation, Mulberry Grove. Her plantation manager and husband-to-be was Phineas Miller, another Connecticut migrant and Yale graduate (Class of 1785), who would become Whitney's business partner.

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