Where was cotton first used?

History of cotton

History of cotton

Man began to dress in cotton a long time ago. The oldest cotton fabrics were found in a Mexican cave. The age of the fibers is estimated to be 7,000 years. It is probable, however, that cotton has been in human hands for a much longer time, because very old finds were also made in India and China. India maintained world dominance in cotton processing for two millennia. The Hindus there handled the natural fiber with particular mastery. Even then, they used simple ginning machines, spinning wheels and looms. They used it to make cotton fabrics that were said to feel like "woven wind" on the skin.

In ancient Rome, imported cotton fabrics were considered a luxury. It was not until around the year 1,000 that the Saracens and Moors brought the cotton plant in tow on their expeditions of conquest to southern Europe, where it made its home in Spain and Sicily. Nevertheless, cotton fabrics remained a noble item until the 16th century. Venice, Lisbon, Seville and Antwerp became important centers for cotton processing and a large part of the raw natural fibers still came from India. But a cumbersome trade route connected South Asia with Europe. Soon Italy and Portugal were competing to discover the sea route to India. Christopher Columbus was also entrusted with this mission when he began his most important journey.

The discovery of America did not help the cotton supply at this point in time; the "New World" only gained great importance in the cotton trade later: In the 17th century, the English imported Indian cotton seeds into North American areas, where cotton cultivation boomed within a short time. One of the darkest chapters in American history soon unfolded around the light fiber: slavery. African slaves toiled on the plantations, managing the laborious harvest and the difficult ginning of the cotton.

At first the yields were still too low to conquer the world market. But when James Hargraves invented the "Spinning Jenny" mechanical loom in 1764, cotton processing was revolutionized. The final move towards mass-produced goods came 29 years later when Ely Whitney developed the "Cotton Gin" ginning machine. "Cotton Gin" brushed capsule remains and the sometimes sticky seeds out of 1,500 kilos of raw cotton every day. A "cotton gin" did the work of 3,000 slaves, who could now be sent to the cotton fields for harvest. As a result, the areas for growing cotton were greatly expanded.

Between the middle of the 18th and the middle of the 19th century, the North American cotton trade flourished and "King Cotton" dominated the world market. African slaves, American cotton and English fabrics were traded in the famous triangular trade. For a long time, cotton was plucked by hand in the USA. It was not until 1920 that the first harvesters rolled over North American plantations. Through mechanization in cultivation, harvest and processing and the expansion of production, cotton goods became mass goods. In just under a hundred years, the cost of making a cotton cloth had dropped to around one percent of the cost of 1784.