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Eli Whitney


Many students may be familiar with the name Eli Whitney as being best known for his association with two of the most innovative inventions of the Industrial Revolution (The Cotton Gin and Interchangeable Parts), and also for The Eli Whitney Students Program, which is Yale University's admissions program for students that have not been able to gain acknowledgement of their educational ability to study at Yale by a traditional route. Eli most certainly did not get to Yale by an easy route.

Eli Whitney was born in 1765 in Westborough, Massachusetts, which at the time was still part of British America, he died at the age of 59 (1825) in New Haven, Connecticut. He was educated for his Engineering career at Yale. However his educational path was not easy even though when he was 14, he had designed and implemented a very profitable operation that manufactured nails. Whitney's mother died when he was 11, his father remarried and it was Eli's step mother who opposed him going to college to study law. In order to gain the finances to pay for himself to attend college he worked as a farm labourer and as a school teacher.

The Cotton Gin (1793), completely changed the way that cotton was harvested which had an impact on slavery in the south. The machine sorted the cotton seeds from the cotton, which had previously been so labour intensive that, cotton was no longer seen as a crop that that was viable to produce a profit even when using slave labour. Prior to the invention, slavery had been on such a great decline that many slaves had been given away. Use of the cotton gin rejuvenated the cotton industry and the need of a workforce in the form of slaves. Some historians believe that this invention may have unintentionally been the cause or one of the major factors of the American Civil War. Whitney however did not have extensive profits from this invention as there were long and expensive legal battles regarding the patent for the cotton gin. This was also especially prudent as there were continuing conflicts between France, Britain and the United States which gave rise to a need for the production of more munitions.

Whitney died in 1825, together with his plans and drawings of some of his designs and inventions, which his family chose not to 'trade'.

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