Eli Whitney (December 8, 1765 – January 8, 1825) was an American inventor. He is most famous for innovations which came to have significant impacts on the United States in the mid-19th century:
- cotton gin (1793)
- advocacy of interchangeable parts
- milling machine (1818)
The cotton gin is a mechanical device that removes the seeds from cotton, a process that had previously been extremely labor-intensive. Cotton exports from the U.S. boomed after the cotton gin’s appearance.
Despite the social and economic impact of his invention, Whitney lost many profits in legal battles over patent infringement for the cotton gin.
As for interchangeable parts, he has often been incorrectly credited with inventing the idea. However, the idea predated Whitney. His contribution was about the promotion and popularization of interchangeable parts, as he was learning how to manufacture muskets.
He inspired Honoré Blanc and Louis de Tousard to work further on the idea, and on shoulder weapons as well as artillery.
In the 19th century, these efforts led to the “armory system,” or American system of manufacturing, which resulted in more efficient use of labor compared to hand methods.
Captain John H. Hall and Simeon North were actually successful at using interchangeability before Whitney’s armory did. The Whitney armory didn’t actually succeed until after his death in 1825.
Machine tool historian Joseph W. Roe credited Whitney with inventing the first milling machine circa 1818, but researchers claim that many people (including Whitney) contributed to the idea, but no one person should be credited as the inventor of the milling machine.
Pratt & Whitney
The company was founded by Amos Whitney, a cousin of Eli.
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