This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Cotton. Among all the materials which the skill of man converts into comfortable and elegant clothing, that which appears to be the most extensively useful, though it was the last to' be generally diffused, is the beautiful product of the cotton plant. The native botanical home of cotton is in the far East. Since the 5th century B. C, India almost everywhere throughout her wide-spread domain has arrayed, as she still arrays, herself in cotton, gathered from a plant of the Gossypium family, which has its wild growth there. More than two thousand years before England conceived the idea of applying modern industry to the manufacture of cotton, India had matured a system of hand weaving which during all that vast period received no recorded improvement. The people, though remarkable for their intelligence whilst Europe was in a state of barbarism, made no attempt to improve upon their laborious hand processes, nor was the cultivation of the plant either improved or considerably extended. Possessing soil, climate, and all the requisite elements from nature for the production of cotton to an almost boundless extent, and of a useful and acceptable quality, India for a long series of years did but little toward supplying the manufacturers of other countries with the raw material which they required. With the discovery of America, however, a competitor arose in the production of this valuable staple, which was soon to take first rank in the cotton-producing countries of the world. Tardy and uncertain as was the development of our cotton industry prior to 1792, the invention of the cotton-gin by Eli Whitney in that year, gave it a magical impetus which in a hundred years has placed the United States foremost among all nations for production and manufacture of this fibre. We have accomplished more by adpating the cotton-gin to this industry in one century, than India has accomplished in twenty, and have every reason to be proud of our record. It would be impossible to enumerate the results of this great mechanical invention. Its influence extends to all ranks of society and to every region of the world. Like the telegraph, the steamboat, and other great inventions, the cotton-gin has had a striking influence upon modern civilization. It changed the occupation and modes of life of great multitudes in both Europe and America; it demanded and brought about new inventions to supplement its work; it transformed the sluggish life of the South into a life of activity, power and wealth. Its effect upon the production of cotton was immediate and striking. Cotton was an unimportant factor in the colonies prior to this invention, but a small amount being grown annually. In 1786 attention was called to the possibility of raising cotton for the English market, and more vigorous efforts were made. In 1791 the South produced 2,000,000 pounds, of which 190,000 pounds were exported. The following year, however, the exportation was but 50,000 pounds. So difficult, in fact, was the process of ginning (removing the seeds) that tobacco, indigo and rice bade fair to be the chief and permanent products of the Southern states. In the winter of 1892 - 93 came the invention of the cotton-gin. Encouraged by the hope of its success, the planters during the following season (1793) raised 5,000,000 pounds of cotton, and sent a half-million pounds to Europe. During the following year the use of the cotton-gin became more general in Georgia and South Carolina. It is not surprising, therefore, to find a product of 8,000,000 pounds in 1794, and an exportation of over 1,500,000 pounds. Year after year the area of the cotton-producing country, the number of planters and their slaves, and the amount and value of the crop, showed rapid growth. In 1800 the product was 35,000,000 pounds; in 1810, 85,000,000; in 1820, 160,-000,000; in 1830, 350,000,000; in 1840, 880,000,000; in 1880, 3,200,000,000; in 1892, 4,500,000,000. The debt which the nation and the world owe to Eli Whitney is proclaimed by the eloquence of statistics. They indicate that Robert Fulton was not wrong when he said that "Arkwright, Watt and Whitney were the three men who did most for mankind of any of their contemporaries." Nor was Lord Macaulay too extravagant in saying, "What Peter the Great did to make Russia dominant, Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton-gin has more than eqalled in its relation to the power and progress of the United. States." Whitney's tomb at New Haven, Conn., bears the following inscription:
The inventor of the cotton gin, Of useful science and arts, the efficient patron and improver in the Social relations of life, a model of excellence. While private affection weeps at his tomb, his country honors his memory. Born December 8th, 1765. - Died January 8th, 1825.
The sowing-time for cotton extends from the beginning of March to the end of April, the early part of the latter month being considered the most eligible because of there being less danger to the young plants from the occurrence of frost - that fearful bane to the cotton planter. The seed is sown in ridges, paralleled by furrows, for the purpose of draining off the superfluous water. After the plants have attained a moderate height they are thinned out, so as to remove those that promise badly, and to leave sufficient space to those that are vigorous ; this space varies from 10 to 20 inches. The soil is carefully weeded and the plants are still further thinned, if their luxuriant growth should require that process as the season advances. As the summer approaches, and the frost has disappeared, the crop is liable to injury from the heavy rains and the attacks of a caterpillar which feeds voraciously upon the leaves of the plant. The blossom then appears, varying in color from yellow to red, and lastly brown. From the blossom the pod is formed which in time bursts into a boll of snowy white. It is said that no crop in the United States presents an appearance so beautiful as growing cotton, especially at the gathering season, when the globes of snowy wool are seen among the glossy dark green leaves, exhibiting on a single stem the expanding blossom, the bursting pod and the snowy flakes of ripe cotton. The season of picking commences in the latter part of July, and continues without intermission to the Christmas holidays. The work is not heavy, but becomes tedious from its sameness. Each hand is supplied with a basket and a bag. The basket is left at the head of the cotton row ; the bag being suspended from the picker's shoulder by a strap, and used to hold the cotton as it is taken from the boll. When the bag is full it is emptied into the basket, and this routine continued throughout the day. Each hand picks from 150 to 200 pounds of seed cotton each day ; however, some negroes of extraordinary ability go beyond this amount. The problem of gathering cotton from the plant in a more expeditious manner than is done at present by hand has racked the brains of mechanics for a generation, and a hundred devices more or less, have been patented which were designed to accomplish this purpose. The difficulty encountered by this host of inventors has been so great that up to the present time cotton is still gathered by hand exclusively. There has, however, been recently invented a machine which experts and planters, who are interested, think has at last solved the cotton-gathering problem. The new machine resembles the frame of a wagon on four wheels, and straddles the rows, so to speak ; a driving-wheel, set revolving by the machine as the horses draw it along, turns several wheels placed horizontally on top of the machine. These wheels turn perpendicular rods that reach down on each side of the cotton row. To these rods are attached at right angles pieces of wires which describe rapid half circles, beating the cotton plant in their sweep, or "agitating it." This agitation knocks off the cotton, which falls on a movable floor and carries the fibre back to a huge bag fastened to the rear of the machine. A slight blow will usually cause the cotton to drop, but if any remains, fans in the top of the machine create an air current that blows off the residue. The ripening of cotton proceeds in three stages, that nearest the ground ripening first, then that about the middle of the plant, and lastly the top crop. The first picking is usually small and unrenumerative ; the second picking is the heaviest, while the third or top picking is frequently poor, and in many cases abandoned entirely, so that it is estimated that of the cotton actually grown fully 10 per cent, is lost by abandonment, as it does not pay to keep the hands together for picking.
The three principal varieties of cotton cultivated in the United States are the "Sea Island", the "New Orleans", and the "Upland" varieties, which taken together are unequalled by the products of any other part of the globe. The Sea Island cotton, grown in the soft and balmy climate of low-lying islands off the coast of Georgia, Carolina and Florida, where frost is scarcely known, has surpassed all other varieties of cotton in the length and beauty or its staple. The delicate and silken filaments render it highly valuable for the production of the finest yarns. It is never introduced into the coarser muslins, but is used for the most delicate fabrics, and exclusively for the manufacture of sewing thread, being also consumed in large quantities by silk manufacturers, the fine, soft and glossy fibre rendering a mixture with the thread of the silk worm difficult to be detected. The largest crop of Sea Island cotton ever harvested was picked in 1891-92, amounting to 68,000 bales, or about 40 per cent, more than any former crop. The average price is about 30 cents per pound. Over half of this cotton is annually shipped to Europe, to be manufactured into the finest grades of cotton fabrics. The long, bright fibre is also used largely in the manufacture of fine "silk" striped silesias for coat and sleeve linings, producing a stripe that no more visual and tactual examination can distingush from silk. "Upland" cotton is generally a light, flimsy cotton, of a weak and very unequal staple, used ordinarily for the filling, or weft threads. "New Orleans" cotton is superior to Upland, and has the preference on account of its clean, soft, and glossy appearance. It is rather short in staple, but even and strong. [See Egyptian Cotton]
The following is the classification of the different grades of raw cotton in the markets of the United States :
Fair, barely fair, strict middling fair, fully middling fair, barely middling fair.
Strict good middling, fully good middling, good middling, barely good middling, strict middling, fully middling, middling, barely middling.
Strict low middling, fully low middling, low middling, barely low middling.
Strict good ordinary, fully good ordinary, good ordinary, barely good ordinary, strict ordinary, fully ordinary, ordinary.
The full grades are fair, middling fair, good middling, middling, good ordinary and ordinary.
The half grades are designated by the prefixes "barely", meaning the mean point between the half grade and the next full grade above, and "fully" meaning the mean point between the half-grade and the next full grade below.
The average yield of cotton in the South varies from 140 to 180 pounds per acre. A bale of cotton, as it appears in commerce weighs 500 pounds, to produce which 1600 pounds of seed cotton is required ; and at the rate of 80 cents per 100 pounds for picking, it costs to pick one bale of cotton §12.80, or to pick the crop of 1892, of 9,000,000 bales, there was expended the fabulous sum of $120,000,000. "Seed cotton" is the term applied to the staple before it has been cleansed of its weighty proportion of seeds by the "gin". Every boll of cotton contains seeds resembling unground coffee, which, when removed, leave only about one-third in weight of clean cotton. After leaving the gin, it is wound in a fleecy state upon a large wooden roller and transferred to the carding machine.