Archive:The Descendants of John Whitney, page 255

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The Descendants of John Whitney, Who Came from London, England, to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635, by Frederick Clifton Pierce (Chicago: 1895)

Transcribed by the Whitney Research Group, 1999.


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WHITNEY GENEALOGY. 255

revolving saws and brushes. Such are the essential principles of the cotton gin as invented by WHITNEY, and as it is still used, but in various details and workmanship it has been the subject of many improvements, the object of which has been to pick the cotton more perfectly from the seed, to prevent the teeth from cutting the staple, and to give greater regularity to the operation of the machine. By its use the planter was able to clean for market, by the labor of one man, one thousand pounds of cotton in place of five or six by hand. Mrs. GREENE and Phinehas MILLER were the only ones permitted to see the machine, but rumors of it had gone through the state, and before it was quite finished the building in which it was placed was broken into at night and the machine was carried off. Before he could complete his model and obtain a patent, a number of machines, based on his invention, had been made surreptitiously, and were in operation. In May, 1793, he formed a partnership with Mr. MILLER, who had some property, and went to Connecticut to manufacture the machines, but he became involved in continual trouble by the infringement of his patent. In Georgia it was boldly asserted that he was not the inventer, but that something like it had been produced in Switzerland, and it was claimed that the substitution of teeth cut in an iron plate for wire prevented an infringement on his invention. He had sixty lawsuits pending before he secured a verdict in his favor. In South Carolina the legislature granted him $50,000, which was finally paid after vexatious delays and lawsuits. North Carolina allowed him a percentage for the use of each saw for five years, and collected and paid it over to the patentees in good faith, and Tennessee promised to do the same thing, but afterwards rescinded her contract. For years, amid accumulated misfortunes, lawsuits wrongfully decided against him, the destruc- tion of his manufactory by fire, the industrious circulation of the report that his ma- chine injured the fiber of the cotton, the refusal of congress, on account of the south- ern opposition, to allow the patent to be renewed, and the death of his partner, Mr. WHITNEY struggled on until he was convinced that he should never receive a just compensation for his invention. In 1791 the amount of cotton that was exported amounted to only 189,500 pounds, while in 1803, owing to the use of his gin, it had risen to more than 41,000,000 pounds Despairing of ever gaining a competence, he turned his attention in 1798 to the manufacture of fire-arms near New Haven, from which he eventually gained a fortune. He was the first manufacturer of fire-arms to effect the division of labor to the extent of making it the duty of each workman to perform by machinery but one or two operations on a single part of the gun, and thus made interchangeable the parts of the thousands of arms in process of manufacture at the same time. His first contract was with the U. S. government for 10,000 stand of muskets, to be finished in about two years. For the execution of this order he took two years for preparation and eight more for completion. He gave bonds for $30,000, and was to receive $13.40 for each musket, or $134,000 in all. Immediately he began to build an armory at the foot of East Rock, ten miles from New Haven, in the village of Whitneyville, where, through the successive administrations, from that of John ADAMS, repeated contracts for the supply of arms were made and fulfilled to the entire approbation of the government. The construction of his armory, and even of the commonest tools which were devised by him for the prosecution of the business in a manner peculiar to himself, evinced the fertility of his genius and the precision of his mind. The buildings became the model by which the national armories were afterwards arranged, and many of his improvements were taken to other establishments and have become common property. His advance in the man- ufacture of arms laid this country under permanent obligations by augmenting the means of national defense. Several of his inventions have been applied to other manufactures of iron and steel and added to his reputation. He established a fund of $500 at Yale, the interest of which is expended in the purchase of books on me- chanical and physical science. In 1817 he married a daughter of Judge Pierpont EDWARDS. Robert FULTON said that "ARKWRIGHT, WATT, and WHITNEY were the three men that did the most for mankind and any of their contemporaries," and MACAULAY said: "What Peter the Great did to make Russia dominant, Eli WHITNEY's invention of the cotton-gin has more than equaled in its relation to the power and progress of the U. S." See "Memoir of Eli WHITNEY," by Denison Olmsted (New Haven, 1846). He d. Jan. 8, 1825; res. New Haven, Conn. 3847. i. FRANCIS EDWARDS, b. Nov. 23, 1817; m. Dec. 1, 1842, Charles L. CHAPLAIN. She d. May 7, 1849. He was b. Oct. 17, 1816; d. Mar. 7, 1892. Ch.: Henrietta E., b. Feb. 10, 1843; res. 259 Church St., cor. Grove, N. H., Ct.; Wm. R. J., b. Feb. 7, 1844; Francis EDWARDS, b. May 28, 1847; res. with Henrietta; Elizabeth S., b. Dec. 19, 1848; res. with Henrietta; Charles F., b. May 4, 1859.

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