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Cotton

( Originally Published 1918 )



Fibers. The agricultural products hitherto described have been chiefly food products ; practically all of them have been produced to be taken into the human or animal body. But now we come to a product whose fiber is sought, above all, as a material for clothing. It represents by far the most important material used by man as a body covering.

Conditions of cotton-raising. Cotton, except one or two types, is not native to the New World, but the early discoverers and explorers found the Indians engaged in raising cotton from New Mexico to Brazil, north and south, and from the West Indies to Peru, east and west. The plant grows in widely scattered regions of the world, between the latitudes of 400 north and 30° south. It is a warm-climate crop, needing plenty of sunshine, copious rainfall during the growing season, and, for the best yield, a soil containing silty clay. If the pods open too soon it is bad for the crop ; on the other hand, frosts are a great danger.

Early cotton-raising. The settlers of this country planted cotton as early as 162I, and it was under rather careful cultivation in South Carolina by 1666 ; it appeared in Maryland gardens in 1739 and was tried in New Jersey shortly before the Revolution. Owing, however, to the difficulty of separating the cotton fiber from the seed, and the slowness of hand-manufacturing, there was little demand for the raw product, either in this country or abroad, previous to the Revolution.

Importance of the industry. From such humble beginnings has risen an enormous industry. In 1790 our cotton production was 4000 bales ; in 1850 it was nearly 2,300,000 ; in 1890, over 8, 500,000. The present yield fluctuates around 12,000,000 bales. The world-demand for cotton has grown immensely during the last century and a half ; it has come to replace other fibers as the most common or widely used textile for the manufacture of clothing. It is a characteristic American product, just as spices are characteristic of the eastern world ; we raise, in an average year, about three fifths of the world's raw cotton. Cotton has been an outstanding factor in our national history and development : it has exerted a strong influence upon our political, industrial, and commercial life ; it has had a most important bearing upon the labor question ; it has affected our diplomatic relations with other countries; and it has been for decades the dominant source of our purchasing power abroad.

Conditions favoring the industry. What brought cotton to its dominant position was a combination of favoring circumstances.

In England cotton was for a long time used as an adulterant for linen, but it was not thought that cloth could be made from it alone. Then came the invention of machines (improved loom, water frame, spinning jenny, power loom, steam engine), enabling the spinning and weaving of cotton to be readily accomplished. And at length came the Whitney cotton gin, which so far surpassed all previous types of gin that it did away with the arduous labor of separating the cotton fiber from the seed, and gave cotton at once a great lead over other fibers in utility and cheapness. The invention was made by Eli Whitney, of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1792. Furthermore, the expansion of the country toward the southwest was favor-able to the advance of cotton-raising; from the original centers it extended into Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Then the Louisiana Purchase gave us Louisiana, Arkansas, and other territory beyond the

Mississippi, and the state of Mississippi began to develop rapidly. Florida was annexed in 1820, and Texas acquired, at length, in 1845. And all this time the foreign demand was on the steady increase. Such facts explain in large part the rapidity and extent of the growth of cotton culture.

Effect of the Civil War. The Civil War practically stopped production for four years ; and the interest of the outside world in cotton was so great as almost to lead to European intervention in favor of the South. Production was attempted in the North, but the climate made it unsuccessful ; the plants flourished well enough, but the bolls containing the fiber would not mature. As soon as the war was over we again took our place as the world's chief producer of cotton ; a production of nearly 4,500,000 bales, in 1859, had fallen almost to zero, and then, by 1869, had recovered to about 2,750,000; but the output had gotten back to over 5,200,000 in 1879.

Varieties of cotton. The so-called " cotton belt " of our country is about 1450 miles long, from east to west, and about 500 miles wide, from north to south, and includes all the southeastern states from the North Carolina coast through Texas. Within this belt there are two kinds of cotton grown : the " sea-island " and the " American upland." The former is the best type, from the stand-point of trade, to be found in the world ; its fiber is longer and finer than that of any other variety. This plant was native to the New World and may have been the one known to the Indians before the Discovery. The very best of this variety is grown on the sea islands along the coast of South Carolina, but a large part of it is found on the mainland of Georgia and Florida. Only a little—under 100,000 bales—is raised ; and it is so highly prized that a large part of the crop is exported. The upland cotton is the variety most commonly grown in this country, and is thus most largely represented in commerce; it is not native, but is supposed to have been brought here from Asia through Europe. The fiber is of medium length, and shorter and coarser than that of sea-island.

Nature of the plant. The cotton plant is cultivated as an annual ; that is, the seed is sown every year, and when the plant has produced its full yield of pods it is abandoned. It is a low shrub, that develops a pod, or boll, containing the seeds (about the size of small peas) and a quantity of " lint," which clings tightly to the seeds, the whole bursting, at maturity, out of the boll. The fiber is from half an inch to two and a half inches in length, and it takes about seventy-five medium-sized bolls to make a pound of raw cotton. The fiber is of such construction that its strands cling together and do not slip on one another ; this enables them to be twisted into thread, and finally woven into cloth, even though they are short.

Harvesting. The harvesting of the crop has been done up to the present time almost wholly by hand ; the cotton-picking season was one of the busiest times under the old slave system, and it is still a period that calls for much hand labor. The bolls do not all ripen at the same time, and a machine that will pick off the ripe bolls may so injure the plant that the unripe ones may not mature properly. Cotton is usually picked four times a season, the largest yield coming from the second picking, and the smallest from the last. Though cotton-picking is unskilled labor, and cheap, yet this item is the costliest in cotton production. An average day's work for one person would be the picking of a hundred pounds ; it would thus take three million people two months to gather a big crop.

Preparation for the market. Nothing can be done with the fiber until it is separated from the seeds. Here is where its manufacture really begins. Superseding hand labor here, the cotton gin rapidly and efficiently combs out the seeds ; then the fiber is worked out into sheets, and in that form goes to the press. The seed was at first thrown away, but, as will presently be seen, it is now a valuable by-product. The bales were formerly made by tramp-ling the fibers in a box but machinery now bales the cotton much more compactly, bagging it and inclosing it in iron bands without human assistance. The bales weigh about five hundred pounds apiece.

Localities of cotton-manufacture. The industry calls for advancing transportation facilities, for the bales must be carried to the factories. And the chief factory region is still in New England ; only recently has Southern cotton-manufacturing made a serious bid for first place. New England has possessed certain local advantages for manufacture : water supply, nearness to materials and fuel, nearness to markets, favorable climate, a good supply of efficient labor, plenty of capital, and, of course, the momentum of an early start. Massachusetts is still the leading cotton-manufacturing state, but in recent years the Carolinas have come into prominence.

Spinning. The immediate product of the cotton fiber is thread, and the thread has to be spun. This was a familiar process in very ancient times, and consisted, at the outset, of merely rolling the fibers by hand ; then the spindle, a sort of top-like instrument, was invented. Much more modern is the spinning wheel, of which examples may be seen in any collection of colonial instruments. This wheel was used chiefly

for wool and flax, but it is an important link in the chain leading to all modern spinning and weaving devices. Then came the spinning jenny, which enabled a number of threads to be spun by one operator at the same time ; and the water frame (so called because run by water power) and the mule, by which stronger threads could be spun and the process-otherwise improved. The detailed description of these various inventions can be found in standard encyclopedias. Today the spinning mule has more than a thousand spindles, all of which are operated by one person.

Weaving. But the threads are of comparatively little avail until they are woven into a fabric. Weaving has been long known among even the most backward peoples, who made baskets by interlacing reeds or withes; then fiber threads were employed and a loose-textured cloth manufactured. The instrument here employed was the loom, in combination with the shuttle. Threads were hung from a cross-piece of wood, or a branch, and other threads passed over and under them, as in the stringing of a tennis racket the shuttle carried the end of the cross-thread. These instruments are the basis of modern weaving machines; first came the application of foot power, and then the power loom, patented in 1785. It is impossible in a book of this kind to give even an approximate notion of the working of these more complicated inventions — again we refer to the standard encyclopedias.

The factory system. Now it is to be noted that the earlier spindles and looms were used in the home, but the developed machines, costly as they were, demanded not only more room than the cottage could spare but also much capital. They naturally led to the development of factory industry to replace that of the home. With these inventions fewer workers could turn out a much larger product in a much shorter time, and the result was a great wave of misery for people who had hitherto gotten along pretty well by the work of their hands. Many such cottage workmen could not live in the old countries under the new conditions, and this was one of the reasons for the immigration of such a fine and industrious element of population into the United States. The period is that of the Industrial Revolution, brought about chiefly by the inventions, which we have already told of, in the textile manufacturer.

other important processes of great moment are also connected with the manufacture of cloth ; for example, mercerizing. This process, as applied to cotton, consists in treating the yarns or woven goods with caustic soda and sulphuric acid, the result being to give the surface of the material a smoother finish and also a luster like that of silk. The process succeeds best with sea-island fiber, since this is naturally somewhat big. Several silky. Of course if cotton can be made to look like silk, it is a more valuable fabric ; it can be used also to adulterate silk.

Dyeing and finishing. The dyeing and finishing of cotton goods is also very important ; more than half of the cottons woven in this country are colored, by dyeing or printing, before they are used. Some of the commonest modern dyes are products of coal tar, a thick, dark liquid that gathers in gas pipes when the gas is being taken from the coal ; from it some most remarkable results have been reached in the production of dyes of several colors. The dyeing is done sometimes before the spinning takes place and sometimes after the weaving is done ; to make it permanent a mordant, or " biter," is used to fix, or " bite in," the color. Such a material is alum. In general the vegetable dyes are less likely to fade than the mineral ones.

COTTONSEED

Uses of the seed. When the cottonseed, once separated from the fiber, ceased simply to be thrown away, it was employed to some extent as fertilizer ; but all this is now changed, for the seed has been discovered to have many uses formerly unknown. For example, it yields a valuable oil. The Chinese knew this a long time ago and used the oil for illuminating purposes. In the western world it was the English who first made oil from cotton-seed, and in this country the industry dates from about 1870.

Treatment of the seed. The seed is first ginned over again to take off. the fuzz, or " linters," still sticking to the seed ; then the hulls are removed and the seed crushed under heavy pressure. The oil is used in cookery, in soap-making, and to mix with other oils. And this is not all that is gotten from the seed. The cake left after pressing is dried and pulverized, forming cotton-seed meal, which is used to feed stock and also as fertilizer. Cottonseed meal constitutes almost as great a value in this country, as the oil. Even the husks of the seed are useful ; formerly they were burned and the ashes used as fertilizer, but now they are mixed with the meal to make stock feed.

By-products. In all industries there is much waste at the outset. It is not then seen to be waste, because there is no known use for what is discarded. But as time goes on and the competition of industries becomes keener, the processes are studied more and more minutely and every effort is made to. save ; for the saving of apparently useless materials often makes the difference between the successful plant and the one which goes

under. We reproduce on page 103, from a recent Census Bulletin, a chart of the products and uses of cottonseed, to give the reader some idea of the saving that has been accomplished from what was once a waste product— in fact, a public nuisance, for the rotting seed, forming as it did a mass of decaying matter, was sometimes that.

The cotton cities. All of our great industries, including cotton culture, have contributed strongly to the development of cities and transportation interests ; as Chicago centers upon the grain business and Pittsburgh on steel and iron, so have Charleston, Savannah, Galveston, Vicksburg, and Memphis centered upon the cotton industry. This industry has practically made these Southern towns, as the other industries mentioned have made the Northern ones, and it has done this very largely by forcing a development of transportation.

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