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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: The Story of Eli Whitney by Jean Lee Latham

AUTHOR: Jean Lee Latham 
PUBLISHER: Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd.
PUBLICATION DATE: January 1, 2000 (first published 1953)
FORMAT: Paperback, 192 pages
GENRE: Non-fiction, Biography
ISBN: 1887840427
Newbery Award-winning author tells the story of the man whose inventive genius made cotton king in America and in the world. Eli Whitney transformed the textile industry with his invention of the cotton gin; and he revolutionized the manufacturing process around the world with his creation of standardized parts.


I read this non-fiction biography aloud to my children.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Eli Whitney before I picked up this book! His invention, the "cotton 'gin" built in 1793, was the first of its kind to separate the seeds from the cotton bolls. Until that time, cotton was not a popular crop in the South because it took too much work. It would take all day just to seed one pound of cotton! Unfortunately, his invention was stolen and the thief started building and selling pirated machines before Eli could obtain a patent. When he did finally receive the patent, there were so many pirated machines on the market that he did not see any profit. He went to court in an effort to stop the imitation machines from being built, but it was a long battle.

Meanwhile, Eli was busy on his second invention: Producing musket parts from guides so that all pieces could be made uniformly. Until this time, blacksmiths handmade each musket so when one part of the musket stopped working, it could not easily be fixed because the parts were not interchangeable. In 1801, Eli built guns that could be mass produced using guides. It also was no longer necessary for the work to only be done by blacksmiths, since now all an able-bodied person needed to do was use the guide for each piece.

After more than 13 years, Eli finally won the rights to the cotton 'gin patent. The only problem was that a patent only ran for 14 years. As a result, he did not amass great profits or wealth off this amazing invention during the final year of the patent, but that was not important to Eli. He used the money that he acquired to build homes for his workmen. 

Eli was a man of great perseverance, dedication, and generosity. My children and I learned a lot about this man's character, and he is an excellent role model.


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