This section is from the book "Clothing And Health. An Elementary Textbook Of Home Making", by Helen Kinne. Also available from Amazon: Clothing And Health.
Do you know that our country produces three-fourths of the cotton of the world? Where is it grown? Have you heard the story of cotton? Let us learn about it.
While the girls of Pleasant Valley school waited for the cotton toweling to come from the store, they studied about where cotton is grown. Cotton is the cheapest and most important textile fiber. What does the word textile mean? Look up the word in the school dictionary. More clothing is made from cotton than from any other fiber.
Where does cotton grow? Perhaps you have lived in the Southern States. Can you name them without looking at your geography? Can you tell why it is warmer in those states and why cotton grows so well there, and not in Northern States? Texas produces more cotton than any other state. In what other countries of the world do you think cotton is grown? John Alden and Frank Allen heard the girls studying about cotton, and they told Miss James that they thought the boys would like to learn, too.
How cotton grows. The farmer plants the cotton seeds in rows, -you have seen corn planted in that way. What color is corn? The cotton seeds do not look like kernels of corn; but some are fuzzy and soft and gray or green in color, and others are black and smooth. This is because there are many varieties or kinds of cotton. Some grow to be five feet tall like corn; others, ten feet in height. The flowers are yellow at first and then turn brown or purplish red. There are over one hundred varieties of cotton. If you do not live near a cotton field, perhaps you can ask some boy or girl in your school to write to the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington. This department will send you some cotton seeds. Perhaps you can plant the seeds in the school garden and see if they will grow. In the South the planter prepares the fields about February and plants in April or May. By the middle of August, the plants are five or six feet high and are covered with fuzzy little white balls, soft and dry. The cotton fields, or plantations as they are called, look like fairyland. In the picture (Fig. 6) you will see the men, women, and children busy picking the cotton and putting it into baskets. The cotton bolls, as they are called, are brown and dry looking; but when ripe, they burst, and the woolly looking white ball pops out of its brown house, or shell (Fig. 7). In each cotton boll there are about thirty or forty seeds, and the cotton fibers are all attached to these seeds. The fibers are made into thread and clothing, and the seeds are used for many purposes.
Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Fig. 5. - The flower and leaf of the cotton plant. The size of the flower is about four inches across.
Courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Fig. 6. - Picking cotton.
Courtesy of the United Slates Department of Agriculture.
Fig. 7. - Cotton bolls when burst are about the size of a small apple.
Cotton fibers differ. We shall learn how the fiber is pulled from the seeds. This process is called ginning and is done by a machine. If you have a miscroscope in your school, look at a cotton fiber under the glass. Miss James will send for some fibers. You will see that it looks like a ribbon which has been twisted. The natural twist helps very much when cotton is twisted or is manufactured into yarn. Cotton is a wonderful little fiber and varies in length from 1/2 to 2 inches. The cotton called Sea Island cotton is the long fiber cotton, and is grown near the sea, for it needs the sea air. The cotton called Upland grows away on the uplands and is shorter. These are the principle kinds grown in the United States.
The cotton seeds are taken from the fiber.
After the pickers have gone up and down the long rows and filled their bags or baskets, they empty the cotton into wagons which carry it to the gin house, where the seeds are separated from the fibers and the brown pieces of the pod are blown away as it is separated and cleaned. Long ago in India and other countries, cotton was ginned by hand. What a long tedious process, for only one pound could be separated by a person in a day. The picture (Fig. 9) shows a little girl at school trying to gin some cotton with a little ginning machine which she has made at school. While George Washington was President of the United States, a man named Eli Whitney invented a machine, called the saw gin, for separating cotton fibers from the seed. This invention has saved much time. To-day cotton is all ginned by machinery; and so great quantities can be separated in a day. The machine works in such a way that the cotton fibers are pulled away from the seeds, and the seeds are kept separate for other purposes.
Fig. 8. - Cotton fibers magnified.
The cotton seeds are used, too. Some of the seeds are kept for planting, just as you keep corn and oats on your farm; and others are pressed. Cottonseed oil comes from the seeds when pressed, and is very useful for many purposes, such as salad oil, soaps, cooking fats, and used for cattle feed. The seed is covered with a fuzz which is first removed and used for lint. Then the hulls are removed, and the dry cake which is left, after the oil has been extracted, is also used for feeding the cattle. Isn't cotton a very valuable plant? How poor we should be without it, for silk and wool and linen cost so much more. Cotton is the cheap, useful fiber.
Courtesy of Speyer School, New York.
Fig. 9. - A Pleasant Valley girl trying to gin some cotton with a little ginning machine which she has made at school.
Fig. 10. - Bales of cotton on a steamboat dock ready for shipping.
The cotton is baled and shipped to manufacturers. After cotton has been freed from the seed, it is sent to the cotton mills all over the world; some in this country and some in Europe. It is sent by boats and sometimes by train. In the picture (Fig. 10) you will see bales on the dock ready to be shipped. In order to ship it safely after it is ginned, it is pressed into bales like the hay you have on your farm; and it is covered with coarse cloth to keep it clean, and is bound with iron bands. The American cotton bales weigh about 500 pounds. This is the size of a bale: 54" X 27" X 45". See if you can measure off in your schoolroom a space which will show the size of the bale. When these bales are taken to the steamboat piers, they are again made smaller by a machine, called a cotton compress, which reduces them to 10 inches in thickness. This is so the bales will not take up so much room in being transported. Sometimes, however, this pressing injures the fiber. The United States ships cotton to Liverpool, Bremen, Havre, Genoa, and many other places. Can you find these on the map and see what a long journey the cotton takes? John Alden went to the map and traced the journey. He used the pointer and started from one of the ports of Louisiana. Can you imagine which one? Which way do you think the steamer sailed in order to reach England as soon as possible? Perhaps you live near a shipping port and can go with your teacher to see the cotton loaded on the ships. Notice how the bales are lowered into the hold. There are large exporting companies which take charge of shipping bales of cotton. What is the difference between import and export? We import some cotton from Egypt, because it is a very long fibered cotton and is good for thread, hosiery, and cotton gloves. Another day we shall study how the manufacturer at the mill opens the cotton bale and makes it into cloth.
Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture.
Fig. 11. - Bales of cotton from different countries. The third from the left is the American bale. The second is Egyptian; the fourth, East Indian.
1. Where is cotton grown in the United States? Find the states on the map. Tell why cotton is grown in these states.
2. Examine a cotton fiber with the microscope. How does it look? Draw a picture of it.
3. Look up the story of Eli Whitney's invention. Why was it important ?