The cotton industry, aided by the invention of the cotton gin, enriched the American South before the Civil War. Although it suffered setbacks during the war, the industry recovered to provide a significant source of American exports.
The early history of the cotton industry revolves around the introduction of African slaves to the American South in an effort to provide inexpensive labor for the cotton fields. Despite the use of the slaves, cotton farming was not highly noted or profitable before the late eighteenth century.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the cotton industry was one of the largest industries in the world, employing as many as twenty million workers. In the years just before the U.S.
The cotton industry’s success has been blamed, in part, for the Civil War, as industries in the North were purportedly envious of the South’s financial success. The onset of the Civil War caused a number of problems in the cotton industry. As the war progressed and the
In the latter part of the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty-first century, the cotton industry has dealt with a number of issues. The
American cotton growers have been plagued by elevated energy costs for irrigation, higher fertilizer prices, and hikes in the minimum wage. Stagnant prices and increasingly pesticide-resistant weeds have also caused problems. Weather and reduced acreage (caused by increases in the acreage planted with corn) have also created trouble for American cotton growers. However, export demands have increased, with China continuing to be one of the country’s biggest customers. In addition, although less acreage is being used for cotton crops, production has increased because of technological advances and newer farming methods that lower soil loss and water and pesticide usage.
Broadus, Mitchell. The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. Looks at the history, the laborers, and the economic functions of cotton mills in America’s southern states. Jeremy, David J. Technology and Power in the Early American Cotton Industry: James Montgomery, the Second Edition of His “Cotton Manufacture” (1840), and the Justitia Controversy About Relative Power Costs. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1990. Provides historical information about eighteenth century writer James Montgomery and the conclusions he drew about American cotton manufacturing. Lakwete, Angela. Inventing the Cotton Gin: Machine and Myth in Antebellum America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Argues that Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was not the first model introduced to the South and, thus, not as responsible for Southern cotton production increases during the late 1700’s as history books suggest. Lichtenstein, Jack. Field to Fabric: The Story of American Cotton Growers. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1990. An account of the cotton industry, from the farmers to the finished product. Yafa, Stephen. Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary. New York: Viking, 2005. Provides a general overview of the cotton industry in the United States from the seventeenth through the twenty-first centuries.
U.S. Civil War
Panic of 1819
Panic of 1837
Tariff of Abominations