Cotton Textile Industry: Information & History

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  • 0:04 Cotton as a Textile
  • 0:35 Ancient Cotton & Slavery
  • 1:54 Cotton Technology
  • 3:31 Cotton on a Global Scale
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Madison

Joseph received his Doctorate from UMUC in Management. He retired from the Army after 23 years of service, working in intelligence, behavioral health, and entertainment.

Today, cotton is used in a variety of everyday work, products, and processes. Cotton has a long and global history, influencing not only what we wear today, but generations of technology and people.

Cotton as a Textile

Did you know that textiles surround you daily? When you go to school or work, you pass by hundreds of different textiles. From seat belts, to chair covers, to the carpet you walk on, textiles help the world go round. Cotton is one of the largest textiles around the world and supports national economies in places like India and Pakistan. Although cotton is everywhere today, where did it start? How long ago were people weaving it into garments and blankets? It actually started thousands of years ago.

Cotton Fields

Ancient Cotton & Slavery

It's challenging to pinpoint the exact date cotton and cotton clothing started being used, but historians have found parts of a cotton plant that date back over 7,000 years ago. However, there's no evidence that cotton was used in clothing until much later.

India started mixing animal hair and cotton into clothing in 2,000 BCE. Since there were no machines, all work had to be done by hand. As time went on, other countries started to use cotton in their textile manufacturing. Countries like China, Egypt, and Greece all started to use it to make clothing, blankets, and rugs.

Harvesting and using cotton is a difficult process. The plants are grown, then the cotton has to be picked, cleaned, spun, and woven or ginned into material.

Back in the 1600s through the mid-1800s, when slavery had become a large part of American and European life, cotton picking fell to the slaves. This was a painful process. Cotton plants have hard outer shells with sharp points, so you have to reach in carefully to get to the cotton. There were no cotton harvesting vehicles for the wealthy farmers, so they depended on their slaves, which increased their demand. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that individuals tried to find a way to mechanize this process.

Cotton Technology

Originally, the spinning wheel was the main way to spin cotton. It spun the material into long threads to allow it to be woven on hand- and foot-powered machines called looms. However, this was not the end of the technological advances created for cotton.

Industrial Weaving Loom

The cotton gin is one of the most influential machines ever created by the textile industry. Although the gin has become faster and sleeker, the machine is almost identical to the original created in 1793 by Eli Whitney. The machine created materials quickly, if not safely.

During the original time of the cotton gin, industrialists created large warehouses called cotton mills. Cotton gins were placed dangerously close to each other in these mills. Due to the cramped quarters, it was necessary to hire children and some women to work the gins. Unfortunately, the safety and health of the employees was not high on the list of importance for cotton mill owners. During the ginning process, cotton dust blew into the air and made the children sick, and many died.

Example of a Cotton Gin
Cotton Gin

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