COTTON GIN The cotton gin, more than any single factor, was responsible for the continuation and growth of plantation slavery in the United States after the turn of the nineteenth century. Following the American Revolution, the southern economy was placed in a very precarious position. Rice production was at a standstill, while indigo no longer commanded a world market. Although cotton had the potential of "saving" the South economically, its production was not profitable, even with the use of slave labor. The average "prime field hand," for example, could only pick and de-seed about one pound of cotton per day.
In 1793, however, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a mechanical engine which had the capacity of separating cotton fiber from its seeds quickly and efficiently. With the invention of the cotton gin, the so-called "Cotton Kingdom" was born. Southern agriculture was immediately transformed and revitalized, and as cotton became a major crop throughout the South, the need for additional labor increased rapidly. As a result, slavery was revitalized on an immense scale. See also: KING COTTON.