Cotton is the world’s biggest non-food crop and China is the biggest producer. The fiber comes from the center of pod that holds the “Boll” with its fluffy white seed fibers that are spun to make thread and fabric. The plant also produces valuable seeds used for oil, animal feed and fertilizer.
Scientists searching caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. They also found that the cotton itself was much like that grown in America today. In the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun and woven into cloth 3,000 years BC. At about the same time, natives of Egypt’s Nile valley were making and wearing cotton clothing.
Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, he found cotton growing in the Bahama Islands. By 1500, cotton was known generally throughout the world. Cotton seed are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607. By 1616, colonists were growing cotton along the James River in Virginia.
Eli Whitney, a native of Massachusetts, secured a patent on the cotton gin in 1793, though patent office records indicate that the first cotton gin may have been built by a machinist named Noah Homes two years before Whitney’s patent was filed. The gin, short for engine, could do the work 10 times faster than by hand. The gin made it possible to supply large quantities of cotton fiber to the fast-growing textile industry. Within 10 years, the value of the U.S. cotton crop rose from $150,000 to more than $8 million.