Eli Whitney letters and detail drawings
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Eli Whitney letters and detail drawings

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Georgia Historical Society
Creator: Yale University. Library
Title: Eli Whitney letters and detail drawings
Dates: 1792-1890
Extent: (2 boxes) 1.0 cubic feet
Identification: MS 0866
Collection materials are in English.

Biographical/Historical Note

Eli Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts in 1765. Even as a child he showed an aptitude for mechanical work, repairing violins and taking on other mechanical work as it presented itself. Whitney set up shop making nails and when the demand for nails declined, he changed his business to manufacture hat pins, a commodity with increasing demand. Whitney eventually enrolled at Yale College in May 1789, and graduated three years later. He intended to further his education and become a lawyer. While studying the law, Whitney applied for a job as a tutor for Mrs. Nathanael Greene just outside of Savannah, Georgia. When he arrived at Mulberry Grove Plantation, he discovered that someone else had already been hired. Mrs. Greene asked Whitney to stay at Mulberry Grove as her guest, and in return he began repairing machinery around the property.

During his stay at Mulberry Grove, Whitney learned that plantation owners were looking for some method to make the farming of short staple cotton more profitable. Whitney and Phineas Miller formed a partnership and Whitney developed the cotton gin and patented his invention on March 14, 1794. Whitney and Miller tried to build a monopoly in the cotton gin market by not selling their machines, but rather by ginning the cotton themselves. Unfortunately, several other machines very similar to Whitney's became available on the market and Whitney and Miller struggled with the battle over patent rights.

While working on protecting his patent for the cotton gin, Whitney sought new avenues to make money. He received an order to manufacture ten thousand firearms for the United States military. Whitney was poised to break new ground in manufacturing. His process for the manufacture of these firearms proved to be revolutionary. His system involved using interchangeable parts for the firearms, meaning the same parts would work on different guns, a process that revolutionized modern manufacturing.

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains letters and drawings relating to the development, patenting, and copyright protection of Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Whitney's efforts to produce firearms for the federal government. Correspondents include Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Robert Fulton, Whitney's business partner Phineas Miller, Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, arms inspector and Chief of the Ordnance Department Decius Wadsworth, financial backer James Hillhouse, Josiah Stebbins, superintendent of the Springfield Armory Roswell Lee, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Whiteny's brother Josiah Whitney, and his sister Elizabeth Blake.

This collection is a photocopied portion of a larger collection: Eli Whitney Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. The entire collection is available on microfilm (6,857 frames on 7 reels, 35mm.) from Scholarly Resources, Inc., http://drs.library.yale.edu/fedoragsearch/rest.

Index Terms

Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850
Cotton gins and ginning
Detail drawings
Firearms --Design and construction
Fulton, Robert, 1765-1815.
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
Letters (correspondence)
Madison, James, 1751-1836
Miller, Phineas d. 1803
Patent infringement
Stebbins, Josiah, 1766-1829
Whitney, Eli, 1765-1825
Wolcott, Oliver, 1760-1833

Location of Originals

Original letters are located in the Eli Whitney Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Administrative Information

Custodial History


Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Eli Whitney letters and detail drawings, MS 866, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mills B. Lane, IV, 1968.


Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to the Georgia Historical Society. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Division of Library and Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Georgia Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Published Descriptions

Electronic finding aid is available via the Internet in the Yale University Library, http://webtext.library.yale.edu/xml2html/mssa.0554.con.html


Encoding funded by a 2012 Documenting Democracy grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Container List




11Whitney to his father and to Josiah Stebbins, 1792 November 1 ( 2.0 items. )
2Whitney to Thomas Jefferson (2); to his father; Jefferson to Whitney, 1792 June 20-November 24 ( 4.0 items. )
3Letters patent for the cotton gin; James Hillhouse and Oliver Wolcott introducing Whitney; passport; Whitney to his father, 1794 March 14-30 ( 5.0 items. )
4Whitney to his father; to his brother Josiah (2), 1795 March 22-July 1 ( 3.0 items. )
5Letters of attorney to Timothy Pitkin; Timothy Dwight to Sir John Sinclair, 1796 July 8, September 23 ( 2.0 items. )
6Phineas Miller to Eli Whitney, 1797 February 15-September 28 ( 5.0 items. )
7Whitney to Oliver Wolcott (4); S. Williams to Whitney; Whitney to Simon Baldwin; Tench Francis to Oliver Wolcott Samuel Hodgson to Whitney; Samuel Meredith to Whitney (2); James Hillhouse and Charles Chauncey to Whitney; Whitney to Samuel Hodgson (4); Oliver Wolcott to Whitney; Oliver Wolcott to contractors for fabricating muskets, 1798 May 1-December 27 ( 17.0 items. )
8Phineas Miller to Whitney (3); Oliver Wolcott to Whitney (3); Whitney to D. Wadsworth; Whitney to Wolcott (3); letters of attorney to William Wallace; endorsers on a bond; bond; Samuel Meredith to Whitney, 1799 January 19-September 18 ( 13.0 items. )
9U.S. Navy Dept. to Josiah Whitney and Phineas Miller, 1800 September 8 ( 1.0 items. )
10Whitney to Samuel Dexter; Bond of Whitney, Timothy Phelps and Peleg Sanford to deliver muskets to the United States (2); H. Dearborn to Whitney; John Newman to Whitney; Timothy Dwight to Whitney; Pierpont Edwards to James Madison; Whitney to Josiah Stebbins (2); Miller & Whitney to the Legislature of South Carolina; Whitney to his brother; incomplete letter, writer and addressee unknown; Whitney to Samuel Dexter, 1801 January 8-December 28 ( 14.0 items. )
11Miller & Whitney's obligations to South Carolina; H. Dearborn to Whitney (2); Whitney's memorandum with the Secretary of War (2); Thomas T. Tucker to Eli Whitney, 1802 February 16-September 20 ( 6.0 items. )
12Certificate of the Treasury of North Carolina; deed to a tract in Wallingford, Conn.; H. Dearborn to Whitney (2); Memorandum of Agreement, Secretary of War with Whitney (2); Whitney to H. Dearborn (2); R.O, to H. Dearborn; Whitney to Hezekiah Rogers and H. Dearborn; Thomas T. Tucker to Whitney (2); William Simmons to Whitney; P. Hagner to Whitney; Whitney to the accountant of the United States; Whitney to James Madison, 1803 January 1--November 1 ( 17.0 items. )
13William Simmons to Whitney (2); Whitney to William Simmons; Power of attorney, Eli Whitney and Catharine Greene Miller to Russell Goodrich; Whitney to H. Dearborn; Thomas T. Tucker to Whitney; Act of the Legislature of Tennessee to purchase Whitney's patent in that state; Whitney to Catharine Greene Miller; Nathanael Pendleton to Gen. Pinckney stating that he witnessed the first use of Whitney's gin: Whitney to his brother Josiah (2), 1804 April 12-December 26 ( 11.0 items. )
14Wade Hampton to Whitney; Cotton imported into London and Liverpool, 1801-1804; H. Dearborn to Whitney; William Simmons to Whitney (2); Thomas T. Tucker to Whitney (2); Charles Dennison to Whitney; Hezekiah Rogers to Whitney; Whitney's receipt for a draft on his contract with the U.S. Treasurer; Whitney to —; Whitney's remarks on the value of the invention of the gin and advantages there from to Tennessee; H. Dearborn to Whitney; Whitney to his brother Josiah, 1805 February 8-December 8 ( 14.0 items. )
15Whitney to H. Dearborn; Memorial of Eli Whitney to the General Assembly of Tennessee, 1806 January 4-22, August 4 ( 2.0 items. )
16Whitney to his brother Josiah; Whitney to H. Dearborn (2); Thomas T. Tucker to Whitney (2); William Simmons to Whitney (2); H. Dearborn to Whitney (2); Whitney to Irving; Whitney to William Linnard, 1807 January 22-December 10 ( 11.0 items. )
17Robert Smith to Catharine Miller; Whitney to his brother Josiah (2); H. Dearborn to Whitney (3); William Simmons to Whitney; Thomas T. Tucker to Whitney; Whitney to H. Dearborn (2); Whitney to William Simmons; Whitney to Thomas T. Tucker, 1808 April 5-December 10 ( 11.0 items. )



218Whitney to H. Dearborn; Whitney to brother Josiah; Mrs. E. Miller to Whitney; Wm. Simmons to Whitney; Whitney to Hezekiah Rogers (2); Hezekiah Rogers to Whitney; Whitney to Oliver Wolcott; Memorandum re Whitney's manufacture of musket barrels and bayonets, 1809 January 23-November 15 ( 9.0 items. )
19Charles Chauncy to Whitney; Oliver Wolcott to Whitney (3); Whitney to Wolcott (2); Whitney to John Graham; Adam Babcock to Whitney, 1810 May 4-December 29 ( 8.0 items. )
20Oliver Wolcott to Whitney (3); Robert Watts to Whitney, 1811 February 16, 1811 April 16, 1811 November 29 ( 4.0 items. )
21Callender Irvine to William Eustis enclosing account of arms delivered by sundry contractors; same to same; "Remarks relative to renewing and extending Patents & c." (one complete and one incomplete version); Contract between William Eustis, Secretary of War and Whitney; performance bond of Whitney and Oliver Wolcott to the United States; Whitney to William Eustis; Whitney to Oliver Wolcott?, 1812 January 27-October 6 ( 3.0 items. )
22Whitney to John Armstrong; Callender Irvine to John Armstrong (4, one enclosing copy of contract with Simeon North); William and J. Joseph Henry to Callender Irvine; Josiah Whitney to Eli Whitney (2); correspondence between Callender Irvine and Eli Whitney; Robert Fulton to Whitney, 1813 March 8-November 25 ( 13.0 items. )
23Oliver Wolcott to John Armstrong; Daniel D. Tompkins to John Armstrong; Callender Irvine to John Armstrong (2); William Simmons to the Comptroller of the Treasury; Whitney to John Armstrong (3); Decius Wadsworth to Whitney; Whitney to his brother Josiah; Whitney to Decius Wadsworth (3; W.H. Dickham to Callender Irvine; to Whitney (incomplete); Daniel D. Tompkins to Morgan Lewis:, Whitney to Oliver Wolcott, 1814 May 7-October 17 ( 17.0 items. )
24Whitney to A.J. Dallas; Roswell Lee to Whitney (4); Whitney to John Morton, 1815 June 13-December 22 ( 6.0 items. )
25Whitney to John Morton; Whitney to Roswell Lee, 1816 July 11, December 25 ( 2.0 items. )
26Oliver Wolcott to Whitney; Roswell Lee to Whitney, 1817 November 25, December 12 ( 2.0 items. )
27Whitney to Roswell Lee (4); Roswell Lee to James Carrington; Roswell Lee to Whitney (3); to E.W. Blake, 1818 January 3-July 21 ( 10.0 items. )
28Whitney to E.W. Blake; Loly Flandrau to Whitney with reply; Decius Wadsworth to Whitney (2); Whitney to Roswell Lee (4); Whitney to Henry B. Grubbs, 1819 January 7-December 23 ( 9.0 items. )
29Whitney to Roswell Lee, 1820 December 22 ( 1.0 items. )
30Whitney to Roswell Lee (7); Whitney to George Bomford; Whitney to John C. Calhoun (memorial, incomplete); —to George Blake(?); Whitney to D. Parker; to George Bomford, 1821 June 11-December 18 ( 12.0 items. )
31Whitney to Roswell Lee (8): — to Phinchas Blair; Whitney to John C. Calhoun; contract; Whitney to his brother Josiah (2); Whitney to Oliver Wolcott; James Carrington to Roswell Lee; P. Blake to Whitney; to Whitney (2); American Farmer— (1823) with a description of Whitney's cotton gin, 1822 January 24-December 1 ( 19.0 items. )
32Entry of merchandise, Ship Herald from Manila, cotton and sundries, 1832 January 24 ( 1.0 items. )
33Memorials to Congress by Whitney's children, 1847 December 3, 6 ( 2.0 items. )
34Eli Whitney, Jr. to Edward C. Bates, 1801 March 7 ( 1.0 items. )
35Detailed drawings of Whitney's cotton gin ( 5.0 items. )