Timeline Description: Eli Whitney (born December 8, 1765) is best remembered as the inventor of the cotton gin; however, his career included a number of other manufacturing innovations. He developed interchangeable manufacturing, new milling technologies and more.
|December 8, 1765||Eli Whitney Was Born
Eli Whitney, the son of a well-off farmer, Eli Whitney Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth Fay in Westborough, MA. Eli grew up on the farm, looking for more effective ways to manage everyday tasks.
|1777||Elizabeth Fay Whitney Died
When Eli Whitney was 11 years old, his mother died. He remained on the farm with his father.
|1779||Invented Nail Manufacturing
At only 14, Whitney invented aa more efficient way to manufacture nails. Nails were essential for all sorts of construction, so efficiency in manufacture was important. Eli earned a significant income during the Revolutionary War by making and selling nails.
|1789||Entered Yale University
Whitney's stepmother opposed college for him, so he worked to earn enough to put himself through college. He worked as both a farm laborer and teacher during the years before Yale.
Whitney graduated from Yale in 1792, with Phi Beta Kappa honors. He had planned to go to law school, but lacked the funds.
|1792||Travelled to South Carolina
Whitney took a job as a private tutor, planning to move to South Carolina. On the ship to South Carolina, he met the widow and family of General Nathanael Greene, and was invited to visit their Georgia plantation.
|1792||Went to the Greene Plantation in Georgia
At the Greene Plantation in Georgia, Whitney met Greene's widow's fiancé, Phineas Miller. Miller would become his business partner. He also, for the first time, recognized the need for a new cash crop.
|1793||Invented the Cotton Gin
With the support of Greene and Miller, Whitney worked through the winter, inventing a mechanical device to effectively separate cotton fiber from waste material in the plant.
|1794||Patented the Cotton Gin
With Miller, Whitney patented the cotton gin. They planned to install the machine, claiming two-fifths of the crop in payment for processing. Farmers began to copy the cotton gin, leading to a licensing plan.
|1790||Whitney Near Bankruptcy(Late 1790s)
Litigation over the cotton gin, as well as other financial troubles had left Whitney near bankruptcy. In addition, one of the cotton gin factories had burned down.
|1798||Interchangeable Parts Manufacturing
With limited profits from the cotton gin, Whitney began focusing on interchangeable parts manufacturing, particularly for weapons. In 1798, he accepted an order for 10,000 rifles for the American government. He delivered the order somewhat late in 1809.
|1801||Worked in South Carolina(1801 to 1806)
Between 1801 and 1806, Whitney returned to work on the cotton gin project in South Carolina; however, relatively little is known about this period of his life. It may have contributed to the delay in the delivery of the arms order.
|1800||Cost Accounting(1800 to 1810)
When questioned about the cost of his muskets, Whitney provided a full cost breakdown, including fixed costs. This marked the first use of cost accounting.
|January 8, 1825||Eli Whitney Died
Whitney died in 1825. He was 59 years old, and died from prostate cancer.
|1840||Cotton Demand Increased Slave Trade(By 1840)
By 1840, the cotton industry increased the demand for slaves dramatically. Whitney's invention had, indirectly, led to the growth of another industry. The cotton gin re-invigorated the slave trade, even as it had been dying out with the reduction in tobacco as a cash crop.