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Forging the National Economy, 1790–1860

particularly transportation and communication facilities—play in the early stages of industrial development.

Focus on the lives of early factory workers, perhaps using the female textile workers of Lowell, Massachusetts, as a case study.

character sketches

Eli Whitney (1765–1825)

Whitney was the American inventor whose two major innovations—the cotton gin and the system of interchangeable parts—revolutionized the American economy.

He did not care for school, preferring to spend his time making and fixing things in his father’s shop. Whitney once took his father’s watch completely apart and reassembled it without his father discovering the deed. For a time he supported himself by manufacturing nails and hatpins.

He earned money to attend Yale by fixing things around the college. One campus carpenter allegedly said, “There was a good mechanic spoiled when you went to college.”

He built the first cotton gin in ten days and a larger model in a year. The original machine was stolen, and imitations were produced; it took Whitney many years of legal battles to gain the sole patent for the device.

Quote: “There were a number of very respectable Gentlemen at Mrs. Greene’s who all agreed that if a machine could be invented which would clean the cotton with expedition, it would be a great thing both to the country and to the inventor.…I concluded to relinquish my school and turn my attention to perfecting the Machine. I made one before I came away which required the labor of one man to turn it and with which one man will clean ten times as much cotton as he can in any other way before known.…” (Letter to his father, 1793)

reference: Constance M. Green, Eli Whitney and the Birth of American Technology (1956).

Robert Fulton (1765–1815)

Fulton is best known in America for his development of the steamboat, but he was also a successful artist and an inventor of the submarine and the torpedo.

As a boy, Fulton became a skilled gunsmith, and in school he made his own pencils. He liked to fish but hated to row boats, so at fourteen he devised a paddle wheel to move the boat by foot.

A talented artist, he studied in London under Benjamin West and was earning a successful living by painting before he turned to mechanics and engineering.

He first worked in Britain on iron aqueducts and bridges, and then went to France, where he built a “diving boat,” the Nautilus, which could stay underwater for four hours. But Napoleon lost interest in the device when it proved unable to sink British shipping.

His first steamboat sank on the Seine, but a second model, built in 1803, was successful. This became the prototype for the Clermont.

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