Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Whitney, Eli

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WHITNEY, ELI, an American inventor; born in Westboro, Mass., Dec. 8, 1765; was graduated at Yale College, in 1792, where he paid his expenses partly by school teaching, partly by mechanical labor. He went to Georgia as a teacher, but finding a generous patron in the widow of General Greene, of the Revolutionary army, he resided on her estate and studied law. The cotton culture at this period, especially that of the best kind, the “green seed,” was limited by the slow and difficult work of separating the cotton from the seed by hand. Whitney set to work to remedy this under great disadvantages, for he had to make his own tools; but the reports of his success prompted some lawless people to break into his workshop and steal his machine, and get others made before he could secure a patent. He, however, formed a partnership with one Miller in 1793, and went to Connecticut to manufacture cotton gins; but the lawsuits in defense of his rights carried off all his profits and $50,000 voted him by the State of South Carolina. Finally in 1798 he got a Government contract for the manufacture of firearms, and was the first to effect the division of labor by which each part was made separately. He made a fortune by this manufacture, carried out with ingenious machinery at Whitneyville, Conn.; while he received little credit for the perfection of the gin, one of the most important of the whole series of inventions connected with the cotton manufacture. He died in New Haven, Conn., Jan. 8, 1825.