The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Whitney, Eli

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Edition of 1879. See also Eli Whitney on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

WHITNEY, Eli, an American inventor, born in Westborough, Mass., Dec. 8, 1765, died in New Haven, Conn., Jan. 8, 1825. He graduated at Yale college in 1792, went to Georgia, and studied law in Savannah while residing in the house of the widow of Gen. Greene. At this time a pound of green-seed cotton was all that a negro woman oould clean in a day, and Whitney, at the instance of Mrs. Greene, undertook to devise a machine to do the work. He was compelled to draw his iron wire, and to manufacture his own tools. Mrs. Greene and Mr. Miller, who afterward became Whitney's partner, were the only persons permitted to see the machine; but rumors of it had gone through the state, and before it was quite finished the building was broken open by night, and the machine carried off. Before Whitney could complete his model and obtain his patent, several machines based on his invention had been made, and were in operation. Mr. Miller formed a partnership with him in May, 1793, and Whitney went to Connecticut to manufacture the machines, but the patent was continually infringed upon. The South Carolina legislature granted him $50,000 for his invention, which was finally paid after vexatious delays and lawsuits. North Carolina allowed a percentage for the use of each saw for five years, and collected and paid it over to the patentees in good faith; and Tennessee promised to do the same thing, but afterward rescinded her contract. For years, amid accumulated misfortunes, lawsuits, the burning of his factory, the report that his machine injured the fibre of the cotton, the refusal of congress through the opposition of southern members to allow the patent to be renewed, and the death of his partner, Whitney struggled on until, convinced that he should never receive a just compensation for his invention, he turned his attention to the manufacture of firearms for the government, from which he reaped a fortune. He was the first who made each single portion of the gun adapted to any one of the thousands of arms in process of manufacture at the same time. His factory was at Whitneyville, Conn. The application of several of his inventions to other manufactures of iron and steel added to his reputation, though but little to his wealth. (See Cotton, vol. v., p. 406.)