Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Cotton, the hairs on the testa or outer coat of the seed of various species of Gossypium. Gossypium is a small genus of Malvaceae, including some twenty or thirty species, natives of the warmer parts of both hemispheres, three of which yield all the cotton of commerce. They are all perennial plants, though outside the tropics they practically become annuals. They have, scattered, three to five-lobed leaves, which are cordate in G. barbadense, round-based in the eastern species. The flowers are usually large and showy, being, in a wild state, yellow with a red centre in G. barbadense and G. herbaceum, pink with a red centre in G. arboreum. The seed in G. barbadense is sometimes black and has only long hairs upon it, whilst those of the eastern species have commonly also a down of short hairs. The hairs, which are unicellular, and are practically pure cellulose (q.v.), are from an inch to an inch and three-quarters in length, and the seed itself contains a considerable quantity (30 gallons to the ton) of a bland non-drying oil which is used in a crude state in soap-meeking and instead of linseed oil, and, when refined, as an adulterant of olive oil. The refuse cake is valuable as a cattle-food. G. arboreum, a native of tropical Africa, has thick glossy dark green leaves, and its cotton is always white. It is grown near temples in India, to supply the triple sacerdotal thread of the Brahmans. G. herbaceum, apparently wild in India, with very hairy leaves, is not only the chief source of Indian cottons or "Surats," but is now also the commonest in Europe and the United States, and the sole species of China and Central Asia. In a wild state the cotton in this species is yellow. All native American cottons may be united as G. barbadense, which may have yellow or white cotton and either black, green, grey, or white seeds. The plant in the three last-mentioned forms is covered with hairs. The most valuable variety is the Sea Island, having a fine, soft, silky "staple" as the hairs are termed, exceeding other kinds in length. Introduced from the Bahamas in 1785, it is grown on the islands and low coast of Georgia and South Carolina, and has been introduced into Queensland, Egypt, and Fiji. Other much grown American varieties are known as Uplands, New Orleans, and Boweds or short-staple cottons.

Sanscrit records carry back the use of cotton to 800 B.C., and it may have been equally long known in Nineveh and Egypt. Its cultivation was introduced into Spain by the Moors. When America was discovered cotton was found to be grown and used from Mexico and the West Indies to Peru and Brazil. The earliest known European manufacture of cotton goods seems to have been at Venice and Milan about the middle of the 16th century. Hence it soon spread to the Netherlands, from which country it was brought to Bolton and Manchester by Protestant refugees about the close of that century. Before the inventions of Hargreaves, Arkwright, and Crompton, it was only a domestic manufacture; cotton could only be used for the weft of the cloth; and our supplies of raw cotton were obtained from Southern Europe, the Levant, the West Indies, and Brazil. About 1770, planters in the Southern United States turned their attention to cotton, and they exported 138,000 lbs. in 1792, and nearly 18 million lbs. in 1800. England's total imports of raw cotton in 1751 were under 3 million lbs., but in 1800 they exceeded 56 millions. In 1888 the United States exported cotton to the value of over 46 millions sterling, of which over 31 million pounds' worth came to Britain, and our total import of raw cotton was valued at 40 millions and our exports manufactured and raw at nearly 72 million pounds. Besides the United States, Egypt, India, and Brazil are now our chief sources of supply. The total cotton production of the world is now estimated at 1,700,000 tons annually, of which the United States produces two-thirds and India one-eighth.

The cotton harvest in America is from August to December. The cotton, when picked and dried, is separated from the seeds, about two-thirds of its bulk, by a process called "ginning," the two chief types of machine used being the saw-gin and the roller-gin, the former for short staple, the latter for long. It is then packed in bales of 400 to 500 lb. weight. Successive mechanical inventions having made what was once the product mainly of labour almost entirely one of capital, Great Britain, with her supplies of coal, has been able to furnish the world with most of a commodity once brought from India, to make it an article of universal use and to hold her monopoly against all her rivals. In 1764 James Hargreaves (q.v.) invented the spinning jenny; in 1769 Richard Arkwright (q.v.) invented the spinning frame or throstle, which he supplemented with various contrivances for "opening," "scutching," and "lapping" the cotton; and in 1775 Samuel Crompton invented the "mule." Whereas formerly each spindle required one man's attention, a man can now work 2,000 spindles, and England employs more than 53,000,000 spindles, more than all the other countries of Europe together. The capital invested in the cotton trade in the United Kingdom is probably £200,000,000, and probably over two million people are employed in it. In 1850 we exported over 1,000 million yards of cotton cloth; in 1860, over 2,000; in 1870, over 3,000; in 1880, over 4,000; and in 1890, over 5,000 million yards. Four-fifths of these exports go from Liverpool; whilst Glasgow practically monopolises the trade in Scotland, Paisley, however, producing a greater quantity of cotton sewing-thread than all the rest of the United Kingdom. The manufacture of cotton in India is growing rapidly, though the first steam mill only began work in 1854. In 1895 there were 144 mills, with 3,711,669 spindles, employing over 139,000 hands, and Bombay has almost wrested the Chinese and Japanese market from Manchester. India is still, however, our chief customer for manufactured cotton.