Free Science Studies: Eli Whitney & the Cotton Gin

Eli Whitney was an American mechanical engineer and inventor best known for his invention of the cotton gin.

Read the following:

“Eli Whitney and the Invention of the Cotton Gin”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
    • Asia and the West Indies where cheap cotton could be found.
    • Westboro, Massachusetts (where Whitney was born).
    • Savannah, Georgia (where Whitney invented the cotton gin).
    • New Haven, Connecticut (where Whitney made muskets for the government).
  • Narrate what work the cotton gin replaced.
  • Compare the amount of cotton produced in the United States in 1916 as stated to the amount produced today.
  • Review the other inventions important to cotton production.
  • Color the cotton-producing states on a United States map (see resources below).
  • Create a flip book describing and illustrating the four virtues the book states boys and girls must have if they are to be truly successful (industrious, saving, honest, honorable).
  • Make a list of the various things young Whitney made with skill (see pg. 109).
  • Learn more about Nathanael Greene at
  • View a photo of an Eli Whitney cotton gin
  • Narrate how Whitney’s cotton gin worked.
  • Explain Whitney’s mistake in marketing (selling) the gin.
  • View an image of a saw gin at
  • Narrate Whitney’s contribution to manufacturing methods according to the book.
  • View a painting of Whitney’s Gun Factory painted in 1827.
  • Create a timeline showing the important events in Whitney’s life.
  • More about Eli Whitney from the Book of Knowledge

A number of inventions had come forth which improved the method of turning cotton into cloth. Finished products were being manufactured faster than ever, and this raised a great demand for more and more raw cotton. The need brought forth the man who supplied the answer. He was Eli Whitney, born at Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1765.

Whitney worked to pay most of his own expenses through Yale University and was graduated from that school in 1792. He went to the southern states with the purpose of teaching, turned to studying law and finally set to work on inventing.The cotton-picking procedure at that time was a slow, difficult process, due to the fact that the cotton had to be separated from the seed by hand….

A small patch of cotton was grown on almost every southern farm, but the great difficulty was to separate the fiber from the seeds. It had to be done by hand, and it was the task of the slaves, and sometimes of the children of a family, to separate a shoeful of the cotton between supper and bedtime. A whole day’s work was only about four pounds.Whitney visioned a machine that could do the work faster…. He succeeded in producing the mechanical separator known as the cotton-gin. Various lawsuits defending his rights as inventor cut his profits on the gin to almost nothing.

He set up in business, therefore, as a maker of firearms, and produced great quantities of guns cheaply and well. It was Whitney who introduced the system of division of labor, by which each part was made separately. He seems also to have started the idea of standardization, or changeability, of parts. He died a wealthy man.”

Some Other Inventors” and “The Growing West” — The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Eli Whitney
Brief biography at

Eli Whitney
Biography at The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Eli Whitney Patents the Cotton Gin
Biography and information at

Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin
Background information at the UNC School of Education.

The Story of Cotton
Free easy-to-understand download from the National Cotton Council of America covering the history of cotton, how it is spun and ginned, where cotton is grown in the U.S., and its importance.

The Story of Cotton
Great site for kids at covering the history, the plant, production, and more, with sample questions and answers.

Cotton: The Fiber of Life
Information at McGraw-Hill on the cotton plant and why a gin is needed.

Cotton Gin
The various cotton gins and how they worked at

The Factory
Eli Whitney and the debate about his “interchangeable parts” idea at the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop.


E. Whitney Cotton Gin
Animation at the Eli Whitney Museum showing how the cotton gin works.

Drawings of the Cotton Gin
View an illustration from Eli Whitney’s patent application.

Planting Cotton Seeds
Information on how to grow your own cotton at

Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the main events in Whitney’s life.


“Eli Whitney”
Chapter covering Whitney from Stories of Great Inventors by Hattie E. Macomber written for early readers.

The Story of Eli Whitney

The Story of Eli Whitney by Jean Lee Latham
Newbery winner from a favorite author.

The Story of Eli Whitney
Part of Four American Inventors by F. M. Perry. Well-written and interesting for younger readers.

“Eli Whitney”
A chapter from Inventors by Philip G. Hubert.

Cotton Manufacturing by C. P. Brooks
Public domain title that tells you everything you need to know about cotton!

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans for Grades K–12
Ideas and information with a few activities in this download at

Fixing a Gin
Quick lesson plan from the Smithsonian.

The Cotton Gin
SCORE lesson plan with questions that can be used as narration prompts, along with graphing and writing activity suggestions.

Eli Whitney’s Patent for the Cotton Gin
Lesson plan for older students at the National Archives that analyzes the document.

Clothing and Textiles
Mini unit suggestions from Steward Ship.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

World Map
At for locating Asia and the West Indies.

United States Map
At for locating Massachusetts, Georgia, and Connecticut. Print another copy to color in the cotton-producing states.

Massachusetts State Map
At for locating Westboro (or Westborough).

Georgia State Map
At for locating Savannah.

Connecticut State Map
At for locating New Haven.

Eli Whitney Cotton Gin
Patent drawing for notebook at the National Archives.

Eli Whitney & the Cotton Gin Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

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