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Historical Document
Cotton gin petition

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Click here for the text of this historical document.

On June 20, 1793, Eli Whitney, who had graduated from Yale the previous year, wrote to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, requesting a patent for his new invention, the cotton gin.

The gin solved the problem inherent in marketing short-staple cotton, which grew easily in warm climates -- the tedious and time consuming task of separating the seeds from the fiber. Whitney claimed that his invention was faster and more efficient than "any other Cotton Ginn or Machine heretofore known or used for that purpose."

Whitney's fourteen-year patent was not issued until March 1794, due to the outbreak of Yellow Fever in the capital city of Philadelphia and to delays in preparing a working model. Although his initial design was for a hand-operated version, Whitney anticipated that other models could be "turned with horses or by water."

Years later, after numerous court claims against competitors who infringed on the copyright, Whitney and his partner, Phineas Miller, succeeded in negotiating licensing agreements with the states of South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, and in obtaining legal awards for damages in Georgia.

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Related Entries:
Eli Whitney's cotton gin
The Cotton Press
Charles Ball's narrative: Fifty Years in Chains
Douglas Egerton on cotton
Margaret Washington on the impact of the cotton gin

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