Cotton is a natural fiber that comes from the seed of the cotton plant. People have valued cotton for thousands of years as it can be woven and spun into fabric and so it has been cultivated and traded around the world. Cotton is the world’s most important non-food agricultural commodity and God willing, will be for a very long time. Wild cotton grows in dry regions of the tropics and sub-tropics of Africa, Asia, Australia and America. The cotton plant produces fluffy fibers to help clothe us and create beautiful fabrics. Cotton is a member of the Malvaceae family, which includes species such as Althaea (otherwise known as the marshmallow), hollyhock, hibiscus and lavatera whose bright pink flowers light up many a garden.
History of Cotton
There is archaeological evidence from Peru, India and Mexico that cotton has been used for thousands of years. People in Asia and South America realized that the soft white fiber of the wild cotton plant could be useful and started to grow cotton as a crop around 3000 B.C. Its tropical origins suggest that, like humans, cotton requires warmth and sunshine to get everything it needs on this good earth, as well as regular moisture. The cotton plant is grown from seed to be harvested in the same year. This ensures that the plants do not grow too large, are a uniform size and produce their valuable fiber at the same time.
In the United States, cotton has been a major crop of the southern states and played a key role in the American Revolution. Cotton was traditionally picked by slaves, until technology such as the cotton gin came about. Cotton today comprises 13% of all agricultural activity in the U.S.
Cotton used to be an expensive textile when an Indian hand spinner took 50,000 hours to spin 100 pounds of cotton. In the 1760s, the hand-operated cotton ‘Mule’ spinning machine created stronger threads and could spin many bobbins at the same time, so the time dropped to 300 hours. In 1825, the automated self-acting mule spinner reduced the spinning time of 100 pounds of cotton to 135 hours. Cotton cloth then became cheap, and cotton production a major industry. Recently, cotton has been genetically engineered to have a designated color, eliminating the need for dyes.
- Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History