Big Cotton: Light Reading

I've been reading about cotton, and it has a fascinating story.

Here are some of my surprising discoveries so far:

  • Cotton was referred to as "vegetable wool" by the armies of Alexander the Great, during a time when the dominant sources of clothing were related to animal fibers and materials.
  • Even though Eli Whitney made the cotton industry unimaginably profitable (and indeed, possible) with the invention of the cotton gin, his net profit from his invention never amounted to more than a few thousand dollars, due to ill-advised business decisions, piracy of his invention, and the resulting legal battles.
  • The four varieties of cotton which evolved to produce cotton lint originated in present-day Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa, coastal Chile/Peru, and Central American/Mexico.
  • Cotton originally grew in a variety of colors, but after the invention of the cotton gin, only the white-ish colored cotton was selected for production, in order to simplify sorting and manufacturing.
  • Upland cotton, or Gossypium Hirsutum, accounts for ninety-five percent of all cotton grown and used around the world.
  • The cotton gin revitalized the waning institution of slavery by greatly reducing the hours required to prepare cotton for textile manufacturing and therefore making it again worth the cost of feeding and housing a labor force.
  • Seventy percent of early textile mill workers died of respiratory illnesses caused by cotton lint inhaled in the poorly ventilated factories, whose windows were often nailed shut in order to keep humidity levels high enough to prevent thread breakage during production.