Eli Whitney: Inventing America's Future

The producers at BIO.com review hundreds of photos of famous figures each week, from award-winning actors and popular singers, to headliners and scandal makers. While we're digging through these archives, we often come across amazing photos that we're...
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The producers at BIO.com review hundreds of photos of famous figures each week, from award-winning actors and popular singers, to headliners and scandal makers. While we're digging through these archives, we often come across amazing photos that we're...

The producers at BIO.com review hundreds of photos of famous figures each week, from award-winning actors and popular singers, to headliners and scandal makers. While we're digging through these archives, we often come across amazing photos that we're just dying to share. So, without further ado, here's the one image that stands out to us this week:

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Eli Whitney pictured with his original patent for the cotton gin. On March 14, 1794, Eli Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin, forever changing the landscape of the American South. He's quoted as saying that with his invention "one man and a horse will do more than fifty men with the old machines." Well, despite Whitney's intentions, the cotton gin actually led to a rise in slavery and a huge demand for cotton. At the time of his invention, there were six slave states. By 1860 the number multiplied to fifteen, and America had become the supplier of three-quarters of the world's cotton.

But an often overlooked invention of Whitney's had the opposite effect. In 1798 he had discovered a way to produce muskets by machine instead of by hand. It was this invention that not only made Whitney rich but also allowed the North to have greater access to firearms and ultimately to win the Civil War.

Who would've conceived that two inventions from the mind of one man steered the course of America's future with such great irony?