Eli Whitneys actions and accomplishments have had a profound influence on the United States and the world. We hope to illustrate this influence by describing his early life and training, his principle contributions to modern methods analysis, how he developed his ideas into a useful practice, and what effects his contributions have on todays manufacturing processes and our society as a whole.
Eli Whitney was born to a middle class family in Westborough, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765. His father, Eli Whitney Sr., came from a family of respectable farmers. His mother, Elizabeth Fay, was from a substantial group of small farmers of Massachusetts. Eli Sr., provided well for his children-Eli, Elizabeth, Benjamin and Josiah.His wife, after the birth of Josiah, became ill and bedridden for almost seven years. After their mothers death in 1777, the children were cared for by a housekeeper until their father remarried in 1779.
Eli Jr., being the oldest, had responsibilities thrust upon him, which attributed to his hastened maturity.His father thought Eli was slow to read, but exceptionally quick at figures. At the age of twelve, he commanded more general knowledge then most of the highest men in the country. In whatever he undertook, he seemed to have a natural ability and able to perceive the consequences.
Indications of his mechanical genius were also developed at a very early age. His father had a workshop where he made household furniture and farm gear. He had many different kinds of tools and a lathe for turning chair posts. Eli worked with him and learned all the tools and how to make a variety of things. His interests were unbounded. He wanted to learn everything there was in life. He worked on watches, violins, and kitchen knives to name a few.
The Revolutionary War was in progress when Whitney was fifteen or sixteen years of age. Nails were in huge demand, and were expensive. Eli suggested to his father that he be allowed to set up a business for Eli to manufacture nails. His father consented, and Eli Jr. went to work. In that time, he gained the time to make tools for his own use. He did this for two years until the end of the war.
When Eli was nineteen, he wished to attend college. His father hesitated because of the cost. It wasnt until at the age of 23 years, and after diligent studying and teaching at a nearby school, that he had prepared himself for the freshman class in Yale College, which he entered in May 1789. He took his degree in 1792.
Upon receiving his degree, Eli accepted a teaching position in South Carolina. Unfortunately, this teaching job didnt materialize. Therefore, he took a position as a private tutor for Mrs. Greenes children. Mrs. Greene was the owner of a large plantation in South Carolina. Eli not only tutored the children, but also did mechanical things around the house that caught the attention of his employer, Mrs. Greene. A large party of gentlemen came from Augusta to visit the Greenes. The conversation fell upon agriculture. They expressed great regret that there was no means of cleaning the green seed cotton, or separating it from its seed. Mrs. Greene told them to discuss this with Eli, since she thought he could make anything. Eli agreed to try to make such a device
and labored many months in the basement of Mrs. Greenes plantation. When the machine was finished, it was shown to gentlemen of different parts of the state who viewed it with astonishment.
Most people associate Eli Whitney with the success of the Cotton Gin; some know about his contribution to the Armed Forces-with the mass production the musket. Most people don’t know the intricacies of these accomplishments or the blood, sweat and tears that it took to achieve them.
One of the earliest signs of Whitney’s innate ability for process improvement was when he asked his father if he could make nails at his father’s wheel making shop. At a mere 15 he identified one process and turned it into many. If the market was for nails, he made nails. He also used the equipment to fabricate penknife