Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 and with this invention cotton was mechanically removed from the seed or “ginned”. The word “gin” comes from the word “engine” and means separating or removing the seed from the cotton fiber. Using an engine to remove these seeds was a huge step technologically for the cotton farmer.
I did not know how a cotton gin (engine) worked, so I researched this on-line using the title “cotton gin video” and “how does a cotton gin work” so here is a very simple explanation.
As the cotton goes into the gin a row of spinning blades (similar to a row of circular saws) tears the cotton away from the seeds. The cotton is pulled thru small slots by the individual teeth on the saw, but the seeds are much larger and cannot go thru. They drop into their own box. The cotton is then picked off the saw by short strong combs attached to a drum. The cotton is swept off the combs by brushes into its own bin, similar to cleaning your own hairbrush with your comb.
Below are several excerpts from Harder than Hardscrabble edited by Thad Sitton, and ison sale in the Coryell Museum gift shop. This book was written using oral recollections from individuals who lived where Ft. Hood is now located. The old settlers make our history come alive in their stories.
Cecil L. Newton talked about working for his brother, Akard, at the Pidcoke gin from 1933 to 1938. “I imagine we cut 200 or 300 cords of wood and stacked it out on that gin lot out there.”
At that time wood was used to fuel the steam engine running the gin. For our general information today, one cord of wood is 8 feet long, 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. You would need about 60 modern car parking spaces to stack this much wood, and it would be 4 feet tall.
Mr. Newton continues, “The cotton was brought in by wagons, wagons and teams. It took longer to get the cotton out of the field (3-4 months). They had to pick it by hand. Maybe twenty or thirty wagons would be lined up at the gin at one time. Then, if they brought their children with them to the gin, they’d all go to that swimming hole (on Bee House Creek), the kids would all go to the creek. I guess it’d take at least an hour to take the cotton from the wagon and run it through the gin.”
He continues, “There’d be a strong suction line from a big fan, it’d suck the cotton off that wagon. A hand (employee) would have to operate the suction pipe and then the cotton would go through the gins and be separated from the seeds. The seeds would to into this one building and the cotton would go into what they called a bale of cotton. It’d be a 500-pound bale.”
William Ake Powell recalls, “They had that big old sucker that pulled the cotton into the gin, had a vacuum on it. Sometimes they’d let you run it around in the wagon bed. I had a brand new straw hat on, I imagine it cost fifty cents. My hat come off, and it went through there, and it was gone.”