Cotton is a white fibrous substances composed of the hairs surrounding the seeds of the cotton plant. As Edward Baines pointed out: "Cotton is a white substance, and in some of its varieties cream-coloured, or of a yellow hue; it possesses downy softness and warmth, and its delicate fibres are sufficiently long, flexible, and tenacious, to admit of being spun into an extremely fine thread. It grows upon the plant enclosed within pods, which protect it from injury by dust or weather, until it is ripe and fit to be gathered, with the heat of the sun causes it to expand, and burst open the pod."
Cotton was first imported to England in the 16th century. Initially it was mixed either with linen or worsted yarn. By 1750 some pure cotton cloths were being produced in Britain. Imports of raw cotton from the West Indies and the American Colonies gradually increased and by 1790 it had reached 31,447,605 lbs.
The Cotton Industry developed in three main districts: North West England, centred on Manchester; the Midlands, centred on Nottingham; and the Clyde Valley in Scotland, between Lanark and Paisley. By the 1780s the industry was becoming more concentrated in Lancashire, with a considerable number of mills within the Oldham, Bolton, Manchester triangle. By the end of the 18th century a large proportion of the population of Lancashire was dependent on the cotton industry.
By 1802 the industry accounted for between 4 and 5 per cent of the national income of Britain. By 1812 there were 100,000 spinners and 250,000 weavers working in the industry. Production had grown to 8 percent and had now overtaken the woollen industry. By 1830 more than half the value of British home-produced exports consisted of cotton textiles.
Cotton is a white substance, and in some of its varieties cream-coloured, or of a yellow hue; it possesses downy softness and warmth, and its delicate fibres are sufficiently long, flexible, and tenacious, to admit of being spun into an extremely fine thread. It grows upon the plant enclosed within pods, which protect it from injury by dust or weather, until it is ripe and fit to be gathered, with the heat of the sun causes it to expand, and burst open the pod.
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Cotton Industry History - History
No one knows exactly how old cotton is. Scientists searching
caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. They also found that the cotton itself was much like that grown in America today.
In the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun and woven into cloth 3,000 years BC. At about the same time, natives of Egypt’s Nile valley were making and wearing cotton clothing.
Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, he found cotton growing in the Bahama Islands. By 1500, cotton was known generally throughout the world.
Cotton seed are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607. By 1616, colonists were growing cotton along the James River in Virginia.
Cotton was first spun by machinery in England in 1730. The industrial revolution in England and the invention of the cotton gin in the U.S. paved the way for the important place cotton holds in the world today.
Eli Whitney, a native of Massachusetts, secured a patent on the cotton gin in 1793, though patent office records indicate that the first cotton gin may have been built by a machinist named Noah Homes two years before Whitney’s patent was filed. The gin, short for engine, could do the work 10 times faster than by hand.
A Long History of Exploitation in the Cotton Industry
The fires and building collapses that killed hundreds of garment workers in countries like Bangladesh in recent years serve as a tragic reminder of the millions in developing countries who labor in wretched conditions. These workers, however, are not the garment or cotton industry’s first victims.
A book published earlier this month — “Empire of Cotton: A Global History” by Sven Beckert, a history professor at Harvard — describes in vivid detail how the industrialization of cotton contributed to slavery, the destruction of American Indian cultures and famines in British India. And while the parallels between the 18th century and 19th century and the present are inexact, the reader can’t help but think that cotton, for all its many uses, still exacts a human cost.
High school history class is good at teaching us the positive elements of this past. Older textbooks described how breakthrough innovations like the cotton gin and the steam engine fueled the industrial revolution and helped make cheap consumer goods widely available for the first time. New books like “Empire of Cotton” and “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist offer gripping and more nuanced stories of economic history.
Mr. Beckert explains how the emergence of a textile industry in England contributed to wars against American Indian tribes in the South and fueled the slave trade. American Indians were forcibly removed from territory their ancestors had long inhabited because those fertile lands were needed to grow cotton to supply mills in Manchester and Liverpool. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and moved within the United States to sow and harvest the plant.
Later, when the Civil War disrupted cotton production in the United States, British and other European capitalists turned to countries like India and Egypt that were already growing the plant along with food crops. Assisted by colonial administrators, industrialists cajoled farmers to switch to growing only cotton, subjecting farmers to trade volatility for which they were ill prepared and greatly diminishing the food supply.
“In 1877 and again in the late 1890s, Berar, as well as northeastern Brazil, witnessed the starvation of millions of cultivators as cotton prices fell while food grain prices rose, putting food out of reach of many cotton producers,” Mr. Beckert writes, referring to a province in British India.
Then, as now, people who benefitted from the status quo said that ending the human exploitation that made cotton so profitable would cause broader economic harm. In 1858, Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina warned on the Senate floor that “England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.”
In more recent times, Western retailers have resisted taking responsibility for improving working conditions in clothing factories in developing countries in large part because doing so would raise the cost of making cheap T-shirts. Some companies like Walmart have contributed only modestly to compensation funds for workers who died in fires and building collapses in factories where their clothes were made. Their lame excuse is that they did not authorize production in those specific factories and should not have to pay for the choices and mistakes of their contractors and subcontractors.
It’s true, of course, that for poor Bangladeshis, Cambodians and others who make today’s clothes, these jobs offer an escape from poverty and subsistence farming. But the callous disregard that factory owners, large Western clothing companies and government officials have shown for worker safety in pursuit of profits bears more than a passing resemblance to the historic injustices committed in the name of King Cotton.
Companies like Walmart, Gap and H&M and the government of Bangladesh have recently committed to making factories safer. But that effort, begun only after the collapse of Rana Plaza and the loss of more than 1,100 lives in April 2013, will require years of hard work. History will surely judge the clothing industry and political leaders harshly for waiting so long to act.
Cotton: History, Types and Uses of Cotton
The history of cotton (Gossypium sp.) is most interesting, and perhaps no more remarkable example of a sudden development exists in the whole history of Economic Products, than in the case of cotton. Only a few hundred years ago cotton and its products were practically unknown to the civilized nations of the West.
However, evidences exist amongst certain of the aboriginal tribes of India which indicate a much more ancient knowledge of the plant. For example, the Khonds grow a cotton-bush in the place selected for a new settlement, and in after years the village plant is tended as sacred and carefully watered.
This custom is probably of very ancient origin, and may denote a superstitious regard for the plant, probably derived from the knowledge and appreciation of its valuable properties.
The Sanskrit word translated ‘cotton’ is perhaps first mentioned in the Institutes of Manu, where it is stated that, “the sacrificial thread of a Brahman must be made of cotton, so as to be put on over his head in three strings.” The word used in that passage and translated cotton is Karpasi from which has been derived, the Kapas.
However, it is certain that at the time of Institutes of Manu spinning and weaving were not only known, but the art of starching or weighing a textile was also practised, and the admissible amount prescribed. A still earlier notice of the process of starching probably occurs in the Rigveda.
The picture thus raised of the character of the textile industries of India, some two thousand years ago. Institutes of Manu also deal with the regulations concerning washer-man.
We are thus led to believe that the arts of spinning, weaving and washing were perfectly understood in the East, at a time when the textile industries of the West, through ignorance of cotton, were in a much more backward condition.
Herodotus is perhaps the first who seems to refer to the fibre. But perhaps the first unmistakable reference to cotton is by Theophrastus, subsequent to the expedition of Alexander into India. He mentions, that the plant was cultivated, at least in North-­western India, at that early date.
The muslins of Dacca seem also to have been known. They are described as superior to all others, and are said to have been called gangitiki by the Greeks, a name indicative of their manufacture on the banks of the Ganges.
The knowledge of the manufacture of cotton appears to have extended into Arabia and Persia about the beginning of the Christian era. From India, there is no doubt, the cultivation of cotton spread into Persia, Arabia and Egypt, from where it probably extended into Central and Western Africa.
From Persia the culture migrated into Syria and Asia Minor, also into Turkey in Europe and thereafter into other parts of southern Europe.
The earliest account of its cultivation on the European shores, is to be found in the works of Eben el Awan of Seville who lived in the twelfth century.
In the new world, we find that cotton has probably been used from the earliest times. It is connected with some of the most ancient beliefs of the aboriginal peoples of South America. Columbus found cotton in use among the natives of Hispaniola, but only in the most primitive way. Cortez found the manufacture in a much more advanced condition in Mexico.
With the rise of Muhammadanism the knowledge of spinning and weaving cotton probably spread to Europe, consequently the delicate cotton fabrics of the East were first imitated in Italy and Spain during the twelfth or thirteenth century.
From these localities the art of cotton manufacture became diffused and extensively established all along the southern shores of the Mediterranean, but it was confined to that area till sixteenth century.
From the low countries the industry passed over to England in the seventeenth century. Towards the end of the seventeenth century cotton printing was established in England. Up to the commencement of the nineteenth century America contributed but a very insignificant portion of the cotton was consumed.
At the close of the war in 1815, the production of cotton in America received a fresh impetus, and the subsequent progress was rapid and continuous.
This great increase in the importance of America, as a cotton-growing country early led the East India Company to commence operation for the purpose of improving the quality and increasing the quantity of Indian cotton for export to England. The imports into Great Britain from India during the years 1800 to 1809 averaged 12,700 bales per annum.
This is the world’s greatest industrial crop, the chief fibre plant. It was known to the ancient world long before written records were made. References to it are to be found in the works of the Greek and Roman writers. Cotton has been in the use in India since 1800 B.C., and from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1500 India was the centre of the industry.
The Hindus were the first people to weave cloth. Cotton was introduced into Europe by the Mohammedans. This was first grown in the United States soon after the first settlements were made. The first cotton mill was established in 1787.
All the cultivated cottons fall under four species, two belonging to the Old World and two to the New World. These are Gossypium arboreum, G. herbaceum G. hirsutum, and G. barbadense.
This is most widespread of all the species of Old World cottons, being distributed throughout the rain-fed savannah areas from Africa, through Arabia and India, to China, Japan and E. Indies. Its origin is obscure, but it is obviously Asian, since the area of its greatest variability is found around the Bay of Bengal.
This species comprises a large number of varieties and races including many of the cultivated cottons in and around India. The staple is coarse and very short, only 3/8 to 3/4 inch in length, but it is strong.
This is also an Old World species. It occurs in Africa, Middle East countries. Central Asia and Western India. It has been grown in India from time immemorial. Commercially the cottons belonging to this species constitute a fairly large percentage of medium staple cotton grown in India. The major part of the cotton crop in Maharashtra state comprises this species. This species comprises a large number of cultivated races.
It is utilized for low-quality fabrics, carpets, and blankets and is especially suitable for blending with wool.
This is a New world species. The centre of variability for this species is Central America. It comprises a large number of varieties or races. Only three races—punctatum, marie galante and latifoliam—extend beyond Central America. The last one is of great importance agriculturally, as it comprises the Upland cotton, which has spread over vast areas in America, Asia and Africa.
The types of cotton belonging to this race constitute the bulk of long staple cottons grown at present in India. The fibres are white with a considerable range in staple length, from 5/8 to 1 3 /8 inch.
This is a New World species. It includes perennial shrubs or small trees, 3- 15 feet high, or annual shrub moderately high. The centre of origin of this group is tropical South America particularly its north-western parts.
Two distinct types of cotton belong to:
This is one of the most important selections which yields lint of perhaps the highest quality which the genus Gossypium has so far proved capable of yielding. Its fine, strong, light cream-coloured fibres are more regular in the number and uniformity of the twists and have silkier appearance than those of other cottons. Sea-island cotton was brought to the United States from the West Indies in 1785.
The finest types yielded staples 2 in. or more in length, surpassing all the others in strength and firmness. Another form of sea-island cotton is grown along the coast in Georgia and Florida and in the West Indies and South America. This has a staple form 1½ to 1¾ in. in length.
The second important line of annual types derived from the perennial stock is the Egyptian cotton. Egyptian cotton is derived from a hybrid stock between a perennial G. barbadense and the annual sea island cotton. It is ecologically quite distinct from sea island cotton and is well adapted for irrigated conditions in the subtropics.
Its practical value lies in its greater earliness. Some of the important commercial types at present in cultivation are Karnak, Menoui, Ashmuni, and Giza. The lint length of these cotton ranges from 1⅛ in. (Ashmuni) to 1½ in (Karnak).
Considerable quantities of these Egyptian types are imported every year into India for supplementing indigenous long staple cotton supplies. Besides Egypt, significant quantities of this cotton are produced in Sudan, U.S.A., Peru, French North Africa and Russia.
Because of its staple’s length, strength and firmness this cotton is used for thread, underwear, hosiery, tire fabrics and fine dress goods.
Cotton is essentially a tropical crop, but its cultivation is carried on successfully over many parts of the world, far removed from the tropics. The limits of cultivation may be said to be the 40th latitude on both sides of the Equator.
It is grown either at sea level or at moderate elevations not exceeding 3,000 feet. Cultivation is confined largely to flat open country and rough hilly tracts, where the minimum temperature does not fall below 70°F.
Higher temperatures are very favourable, and the upper limit may go up even to 105°F in the picking season. The crop thrives well in moderate rainfall. Rainfall exceeding 35 inches is supposed to be harmful to the crop. The lower limit for a purely rain-fed crop is 20 inches.
On black cotton soils, hardly any rainfall is needed over most of the growing period provided good showers have been received before the crop was sown and a satisfactory start has been made.
Cotton is grown both as a dry crop and as an irrigated crop. If the rainfall is distributed over both the monsoons, the extra­ordinary fertility of the black cotton soil allows a wide variety of crops to be grown, and also taking of two crops in the year—one in the north-east monsoon period, and the other in the south­west monsoon period.
On the other hand, if the rainfall is low and is confined to the north-east monsoon period, the only one crop is grown in the year. There is considerable mixed cropping practice with cotton. Pulses such as arhar, black-gram and green-gram and other crops such as groundnut and the castor, into the mixture. The ‘New World’ cottons are, however, grown pure— whether as dry crops or as irrigated crops.
Several operations are necessary in order to prepare the raw cotton fibre, as it comes from the field, for use in the textile industry. In brief these operations are as follows—ginning baling transporting to the mills picking, a process in which a machine removes any foreign matter and delivers the cotton in a uniform layer lapping, an operation whereby three layers are combined into one carding, combing, and drawing during which the short fibres are extracted and the others are straightened and evenly distributed and finally twisting the fibres into thread.
The cotton crop is usually harvested in three or four pickings, taken at suitable intervals. Picking is carried out by hand, mostly by women, the amount of cotton collected ranging from 20 to 50 lb. per day ppr person. Cotton should be picked only when the bolls are fully mature, fully open and the floss has puffed up consequent on exposure to sun.
The yield per acre is low in India as compared to yield in other countries.
The bulk of cotton produced in India is sold as Kapas or unginned cotton. Kapas is transported to the local markets or ginneries mainly in carts or, sometimes, on pack animals. The cultivator sells his cotton in the village market.
The purchasers are village merchants, or agents of ginneries, spinning mills or exporting firms. In some states, co-operative societies organized by cultivators have taken up the purchase and sale of the cotton.
Kapas or seed cotton collected from the field contains both lint and seed. For use in industry, cotton should be cleaned and the lint separated from the seed. A small amount of seed cotton is ginned in villages by the use of charkha gin. The bulk of it, however, is ginned in factories by power-driven machinery. The yield and quality of lint depend on the type of cotton and the machinery used for ginning.
Cotton is packed for trade purposes both in loose and compressed bales. Loose packing is adopted for inland transit of ginned cotton to a pressing factory, while compressed packing is adopted for transporting ginned cotton to the market and for storing in the godowns. Each loose bale contains 200 to 300 lb. of cotton. The usual weight of compressed bale is 392 lb. net with density of 40 lb. per cubic foot.
The bulk of cotton production is consumed in the manufacture of woven goods, alone or in combination with other fibres. The principal types of woven fabrics are—print cloth, yam fabrics, sheetings, fine cotton goods, napped fabrics, duck, tyre fabrics and towels. Products in the form of yam and cord include unwoven tyre cord, thread, cordage and twine and crochet yams.
Unspun cotton finds use in mattresses, pads and upholsteries. Cotton constitutes one of the basic raw materials for cellulose industries including plastics, rayon and explosives. Sterilized absorbent cotton finds use in medical and surgical practice.
Yarns of varying size and fineness are needed in the production of fabrics. Coarse yarns are spun from short staple cottons and fine one from medium and long staple types. Long and uniform staples are utilized for yarns of high counts required for fine fabrics.
Cotton waste is a by-­product of the spinning and weaving mills and consists principally of short fibres rejected by combing and carding machines, floor sweepings, odds and ends from weaving and various scraps.
The amount of waste given by cotton is an important factor in its quality evaluation. Cotton waste of good grade is employed in making cotton blankets, sheets, towels and flannelettes. Cylindrical strips from carding machine, which are constituted of fibres of good strength, are used for warps, twines, ropes and nets they are also useful for wadding, padding for upholstery, bed quilts etc.
Strips from Egyptian cottons are mixed with wool for making mixed woollen goods. Floor sweeping and fibres unfit for spinning are bleached and used for gun-cotton, cellulose and artificial silk. Short remnants and thread waste that cannot be respun are used as wiping and polishing material.
The stalks of plant contain a fibre that can be used in paper making or for fuel, and the roots possess a crude drug. The seeds are of the greatest importance and every portion is utilized.
The hulls are used for stock feed as fertilizer for lining oil wells as a source of xylose, a sugar that can be converted into alcohol and for many other purposes. The kernels yield one of the most important fatty oils, cottonseed oil and an oil cake and meal which are used for fertilizer, stock feed, flour, and as a dyestuff.
The Cotton Industry and the Industrial Revolution
The United Kingdom experienced a huge growth in the cotton industry during the Industrial Revolution. The factories that were required to produce cotton became a legacy of the time – Sir Richard Arkwright at Cromford built the world’s first true factory to produce cotton. With an ever increasing population and an ever-expanding British Empire, there was a huge market for cotton and cotton factories became the dominant feature of the Pennines.
The north of England had many areas around the Pennines that were perfect for the building of cotton factories. The original factories needed a constant power supply and the fast flowing rivers in the Pennines provided this. In later years coal provided this power – this was also found in large quantities in the north of England.
The factories also needed a work force and the population in the northern cities provided this, especially as many families had been engaged in the domestic system prior to the industrialisation that occurred in the north. There was therefore a ready supply of skilled weavers and spinners.
Liverpool, a rapidly expanding port, also provided the region with a means of importing raw cotton from the southern states of America and exporting finished cotton abroad. The internal market was well served with decent transport means, especially when the railways extended from London to the north.
Of great importance to the cotton industry was the repeal in 1774 of a heavy tax that was charged on cotton thread and cloth made in Britain.
Combined with all the above factors were numerous inventions that transformed the British cotton industry and helped to make the UK the ‘workshop of the world’.
In 1733, John Kay invented the ‘Flying Shuttle’. This invention allowed wider cloth to be weaved and at a faster speed than before. Kay used his knowledge as a weaver to develop this machine.
In 1765, James Hargreaves invented the ‘Spinning Jenny’. Within twenty years the number of threads one machine could spin rose from six to eighty.
In 1769, Richard Arkwright patented the ‘Water Frame’. This, as its title would suggest, used water as a source of power but it also produced a better thread than the spinning jenny.
In 1779, Crompton’s ‘Mule’ was invented. This combined the good points of the water frame and the spinning jenny and resulted in a machine that could spin a cotton thread better than any other machine.
In 1781 Boulton and Watt invented a steam engine that was easy to use within a cotton factory. By the 1790’s, the steam engine was used in increasing numbers in cotton factories. Therefore there was less reliance of water and the availability of water. Factories tended to be built nearer coalmines as a result.
In the 1800’s the industry witnessed a spread in the use of chemical bleaches and dyes, which meant that bleaching, dyeing and printing could all be done in the same factory.
In 1812, the first decent weaving machine, Robert’s Power Loom, was invented. This meant that all stages in the making of cotton could now be done in one factory.
All these inventions had a major impact in the amount of cotton produced in Great Britain – and the fortune this represented. In 1770, the cotton was worth around £600,000. By 1805, this had grown to £10,500,000 and by 1870, £38,800,000. By comparison, over the same hundred years, wool had increased in value from £7,000,000 to £25,400,000 and silk from £1,000,000 to £8,000,000. In Manchester alone, the number of cotton mills rose dramatically in a very short space of time: from 2 in 1790 to 66 in 1821.
While some made fortunes from the cotton factories, those who worked in them had no union protection against excessive work, dangerous conditions and low pay – this was to come much later. While a visitor to Arkwright’s Cromford factory described the building as “magnificent” in 1790, conditions inside for a worker were less than magnificent. However, Arkwright was considered to be a decent owner who did go some way to looking after his workforce. Arkwright built cottages for his workers, but they were built so close to the factories that developed Cromford that if a worker had any time off, he or she would not be in a position to get away from the environment in which they worked. He also built a Sunday school for the children who worked at Cromford mill and his best workers were rewarded with bonuses of dairy cows. Arkwright also rented out allotments at cheap rates. But not all factory owners were like Arkwright.
It was also profitable to employ children to do work, as they were cheaper than adults. They were especially useful at crawling under machines to clear up fallen cotton thread and tying together loose ends. With no birth certificates in the early years of factories, no factory manager would find himself blamed for employing underage children, as many children themselves did not know their age. Even when birth certificated were introduced in 1836, child labour did not stop.
The hours that children worked in textile factories started to change in 1833 when an Act of Parliament was passed. The 1833 Factory Act forbade the employment of children under nine years of age in all textile mills (excluding lace and silk). Children under thirteen were not allowed to work for more than nine hours a day and not more than 48 hours in one week. Under eighteens were not allowed to work for more than 12 hours a day and not more than 69 hours in a week. They were also not allowed to work at night. Children employed in a factory between the ages of nine and eleven also had to have two hours of education each day.
This act was built on in 1844 with another Factory Act that restricted children aged between 8 and 13 to half-day working (6.5 hours) which had to be completed either before or after noon – the working time could not straddle midday. However, the law was very difficult to enforce, as there were few factory inspectors and those who were employed to do this work were poorly paid. There were also many parents who wanted their children to work and aided factory managers in bypassing this legislation. In 1847, another Factory Act stated that everyone under 18 and all women were only allowed to work a maximum of ten hours a day.
Cotton is a shrub known technically as gossypium. Although modest looking and usually no higher than a medium-sized man’s shoulders, its fruit helped to spin off an industrial revolution in 1700s England and foment the Civil War in the 1800s United States. The possibility of riches spun from cotton in the early days helped populate what became the state of Arkansas, with people coming by the hundreds and thousands on a trip that might last two years.
Several visitors to Arkansas in the early 1800s made note in their journals and writings of cotton being grown. The crop remained a Southern staple because it needed hot summer days and warm summer nights to bear abundant fruit. It also needed lots of labor, which in the South meant slaves, who handled every aspect of cotton production from planting in the spring to picking in the fall. After cotton planting and the achievement of a stand (a solid row of plants down each bedded row), the crop had to be blocked (elimination of all but one hardy plant per foot) and chopped to eliminate weeds and grass until a laid-by crop stood about waist high.
Although farmers throughout the state planted cotton, the dark earth of the Arkansas Delta proved most hospitable, encouraging large crops each year in river counties such as Mississippi County in the north and Chicot County in the south. These counties, as did others in the Delta, had easy access to river transport and thus possessed an important shipping advantage over the state’s other cotton farmers. When the Civil War ended, slavery stopped as well, and wage labor, tenant farming, or a combination of the two became the most common means of production. Typical regional farm wages in 1866 were thirteen dollars per month for men and nine dollars per month for women. Tenant shares varied but usually ranged from twenty-five percent to fifty percent. Sometimes, there was little profit to share. Cotton prices fell after the Civil War and flat-lined through the late 1890s, killing off many Delta operators. For example, the price of lint, which is cotton fiber after the seed is removed, fell to about 9.4 cents per pound by 1888–89, barely covering the cost of production.
Regional cotton yields per acre varied substantially from farm to farm, usually from a low of one-half bale per acre to a high of two bales. The amount harvested depended on quality of soil, rainfall, temperature, insect infestation, and production practices. In profitable years, farmers made a bale or more per acre, with a bale consisting of about 500 pounds of lint cotton compacted into oblong units bound by webbing and ties. A common ginning arrangement gave seed to ginners as the fee for ginning, while the lint belonged to producers. After grading to determine quality of a bale’s fiber, farmers and landlords marketed their shares to cotton merchants, many of whom operated out of Memphis, Tennessee. As was the case throughout the Mississippi River Valley, Arkansas cotton farmers grew—and still do, for that matter—upland cotton. Extra long staple cotton, which ginners call Egyptian cotton, is limited to a few western states.
The planter class that cotton produced in the nineteenth-century Delta often owned thousands of acres of land. Tenants usually owned none. A typical Arkansas cotton tenant, black or white, rented forty acres from a landowner and farmed with his own mules, harrow, planter, and family for labor. Landowners got about one-fourth of the crop, with the remainder going to the tenant. At the lower end of the tenant food chain, a sharecropper lacked equipment and capital, so he farmed with landlord-supplied equipment and capital. Typically, his family received only fifty percent of the crop and had to buy supplies and personal items from plantation commissaries, sometimes at high mark-ups. Sharecroppers, particularly African Americans who lacked mobility due to race, did little more than survive. They generally had little cash after settling up with landlords and often found themselves even deeper in debt to the company store.
These profit-sharing arrangements and plantation store prices caused repeated conflicts throughout Arkansas history between tenants and landlords. Sometimes laborers and tenants organized unions and other organizations for collective bargaining with landowners. Clashes such as the Lee County cotton picker strike of 1891, the Elaine Massacre of 1919, and the formation of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union in 1934 resulted from these tensions.
Profitable cotton prices, sometimes as high as thirty cents a pound, crashed along with the stock market at the beginning of the Great Depression. There was a drought of financing as banks closed, and five-cent cotton devastated state producers. In 1933, the U.S. government devised a program to pay farmers for plowing up cotton acreage to reduce supply and so, theoretically, create higher prices. The program made plow-up payments directly to landowners and directed them to share the money with tenants. However, some owners chose to evict tenants rather than share payments, which set in motion numerous conflicts between planters and tenants.
Major struggles over cotton sales proceeds and federal assistance decreased somewhat after two changes relocated Southern labor. As Northern factories ramped up in the late 1930s for a coming world war, pickers had an alternative to patches, and they headed north, moving out of shotgun houses on dusty country roads to working-class neighborhoods in cities such as St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. In these urban centers, hands picked up higher wages and better living conditions. A counterbalance to this loss of agricultural labor occurred in the early 1950s when mechanical cotton pickers pulled into Arkansas fields. One driver and one machine cleaned rows that previously required many hands to pick. Just as machines replaced hand labor on Arkansas farms, other crops took the place of cotton. A decline of cotton acreage in the 1930s continued as rice and soybeans captured a growing share of state farm acreage. In the early 1960s, cotton generated about thirty-three percent of Arkansas’ agricultural income. By the 1980s, that percentage decreased to twenty. Though not king anymore, cotton remains a strong cash crop for the state. In 2004, Arkansas cotton production hit a record 2.1 million bales. The state’s 2004 output contributed almost ten percent of the 23.01 million bales harvested nationwide, according to USDA records.
Cotton growing in Arkansas is big business, and it is a modern one. Seed goes into the ground when consultants determine that soil temperature is ideal. Fertilizer flows when soil tests say so. Irrigation pumps start when agronomists advise. Specialists periodically complete bug counts in fields and advise when to spray and the type and quantity of pesticides to use. Chemicals control cotton growth and the date when bolls open. Mechanical cotton-pickers glide over six rows at a time, while computers mounted in their air-conditioned cabs monitor machine operations. At turn rows, baskets dump several bales into module builders that compress them into tight units for later transport to gins.
For additional information:
Hagge, Patrick David. “The Decline and Fall of a Cotton Empire: Economic and Land-Use Change in the Lower Mississippi River ‘Delta’ South, 1930–1970.” PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2013.
Holley, Donald. The Second Great Emancipation: The Mechanical Cotton Picker, Black Migration, and How They Shaped the Modern South. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
Kester, Howard. Revolt among the Sharecroppers (1936). Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1997.
McNeilly, Donald P. The Old South Frontier: Cotton Plantations and the Formation of Arkansas Society, 1819–1861. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
“Oral History: Walter C. Estes Discusses Cotton Farming.” 1974. Audio online at Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Arkansas Studies Institute (ASI) Research Portal: Walter C. Estes Oral History (accessed November 20, 2017).
Whayne, Jeannie M. “Cotton’s Metropolis: Memphis and Plantation Development in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840–1920.” In Comparing Apples, Oranges, and Cotton: Environmental Histories of the Global Plantation, edited by Frank Uekötter. Frankfurt, Germany: Campus Verlag, 2014.
———. Delta Empire: Lee Wilson and the Transformation of Agriculture in the New South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011.
———. A New Plantation South: Land, Labor and Federal Favor in the Twentieth-Century Arkansas. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.
Cotton fibre processing
Cotton fibres may be classified roughly into three large groups, based on staple length (average length of the fibres making up a sample or bale of cotton) and appearance. The first group includes the fine, lustrous fibres with staple length ranging from about 2.5 to 6.5 cm (about 1 to 2.5 inches) and includes types of the highest quality—such as Sea Island, Egyptian, and pima cottons. Least plentiful and most difficult to grow, long-staple cottons are costly and are used mainly for fine fabrics, yarns, and hosiery. The second group contains the standard medium-staple cotton, such as American Upland, with staple length from about 1.3 to 3.3 cm (0.5 to 1.3 inches). The third group includes the short-staple, coarse cottons, ranging from about 1 to 2.5 cm (0.5 to 1 inch) in length, used to make carpets and blankets, coarse and inexpensive fabrics, and blends with other fibres.
Most of the seeds (cottonseed) are separated from the fibres by a mechanical process called ginning. Ginned cotton is shipped in bales to a textile mill for yarn manufacturing. A traditional and still common processing method is ring spinning, by which the mass of cotton may be subjected to opening and cleaning, picking, carding, combing, drawing, roving, and spinning. The cotton bale is opened, and its fibres are raked mechanically to remove foreign matter (e.g., soil and seeds). A picker (picking machine) then wraps the fibres into a lap. A card (carding) machine brushes the loose fibres into rows that are joined as a soft sheet, or web, and forms them into loose untwisted rope known as card sliver. For higher-quality yarn, card sliver is put through a combing machine, which straightens the staple further and removes unwanted short lengths, or noils. In the drawing (drafting) stage, a series of variable-speed rollers attenuates and reduces the sliver to firm uniform strands of usable size. Thinner strands are produced by the roving (slubbing) process, in which the sliver is converted to roving by being pulled and slightly twisted. Finally, the roving is transferred to a spinning frame, where it is drawn further, twisted on a ring spinner, and wound on a bobbin as yarn.
Faster production methods include rotor spinning (a type of open-end spinning), in which fibres are detached from the card sliver and twisted, within a rotor, as they are joined to the end of the yarn. For the production of cotton blends, air-jet spinning may be used in this high-speed method, air currents wrap loose fibres around a straight sliver core. Blends (composites) are made during yarn processing by joining drawn cotton with other staple fibres, such as polyester or casein.
Since the arrival of the Five Tribes, cotton has been a major agricultural commodity in Oklahoma. First planted in the Choctaw Nation in 1825, cotton was grown on small subsistence farms and large plantations. Col. Robert M. Jones, a Choctaw, owned an operation in 1851 that exceeded five thousand acres from which approximately 2,275 African American slaves harvested seven hundred bales. However, the Civil War (1861–65), which brought devastation to farms of all sizes, the elimination of slavery, and general impoverishment, temporarily halted significant cotton production.
By the mid-1870s recovery was underway. Although tribal law forbade American Indian citizens to lease their lands to outsiders, many "employed" noncitizens or tenants, who by 1900 cultivated 80 percent of the cotton farms in the Indian Territory. Additionally, the opening of what became Oklahoma Territory between 1889 and 1901 led to an influx of cotton farmers.
Whether a tenant or a homesteader, a farmer began each season by tilling the soil and planting the crop in late April or early May. Once the plants sprouted, workers with hoes thinned the rows once to prevent plant overcrowding and again later to control weeds. At harvest time, normally beginning in late September, family members and other workers placed the handpicked cotton in cloth sacks, which were weighed when full. The crop was dumped into a wagon and delivered to nearby gins. Such practices continued until widespread mechanization was instituted after World War II.
At 1907 statehood farmers in all but three Oklahoma counties raised cotton on almost one-fourth of the state's cultivated acreage. The most concentrated production centered in the counties of the southern half and in the area north and east from Oklahoma City to the Arkansas River. Approximately three hundred cotton gins processed the lint into five-hundred-pound bales and separated the seed from the fiber. Compressing plants, in which the bales were pressed and stored, operated at McAlester, Ardmore, Mangum, and Oklahoma City. The latter became the center for marketing companies. Eight textile plants purchased fiber for their businesses, and thirty-seven cottonseed oil mills crushed seeds, using the residue oil for food products, the linters to make paper, the hulls to mix with livestock feeds, and the cake and meal to feed animals.
Although the boll weevil arrived in Oklahoma around 1905 and wrought havoc over much of the state into the 1920s, cotton farmers continued their expansionist plans. During the World War I era they annually produced approximately one million bales. When the European demand for cotton drove the price to 34.98 cents per pound in 1919, Oklahomans planted 3,312,000 acres in the crop and gathered 1,336,000 bales in 1920, exceeding all previous yields. Unfortunately, the price tumbled to 9.4 cents per pound, causing the agricultural crisis of 1920–21.
Oklahoma cotton farmers ignored the lower prices. With two-thirds of farmers putting one-fourth of the state's cultivated land in cotton, the crop's acreage approached or exceeded four million during six years of the 1920s, with an all-time high of 5,396,000 in 1925. Income from the sale of lint processed in more than one thousand gins averaged $118 million between 1923 and 1929, making cotton the state's major cash crop and placing Oklahoma third behind Texas and Mississippi among all cotton-producing states.
With such expansion, steps for enhancing production and adopting labor-saving techniques were considered. The Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station's research efforts to develop cotton suitable to the region led to the introduction of the long-staple 'Oklahoma Triumph' and 'Lightning Express' varieties. Some farmers substituted tractors for draft animals in cultivating and planting, and operators in the southwestern counties harvested with a sled, a slotted implement designed to remove the bolls from the stalk when dragged across the field. However, instead of mechanical devices, the technique of snapping cotton gained popularity. Rather than picking the seed cotton from the burrs, some producers delayed harvest until they could pull the entire bolls from the plants. Although the amount of trash caused higher ginning costs, snapping had become the prevalent practice by the 1930s.
The organization of a statewide marketing cooperative, the Oklahoma Cotton Growers' Association, was introduced as a method for selling cotton to offset the low prices. By the end of the 1920s one-third of the Oklahoma crop was delivered to the cooperative. Producers pledged to pool their harvest to gain bargaining power when negotiating with buyers. This practice was reinforced through the enactment of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929. Unfortunately, when commodity prices plummeted with the outbreak of the Great Depression, farmers increased their acreage, thus contributing to greater surpluses and even lower prices.
The implementation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 served as the forerunner of the federal government's assumption of regulating production in exchange for income protection. Oklahoma cotton farmers subsequently plowed up 1.2 million acres of the planted crop, and ninety thousand growers were cooperating with the programs by 1934. With the acreage restrictions along with the effect of a drought from 1929 to 1939, the number of cotton farms fell from 123,477 to 86,889 and harvested acreage decreased from 4,148,228 to 1,671,481.
Declining production continued for the remainder of the century. Such issues as the competition of synthetic fibers with cotton goods, the variations in government production controls and subsidies, a decreasing rural population, the higher maintenance cost in raising cotton as compared with wheat, corn, or sorghum, and the ever-present cost-price squeeze that farmers experienced were contributing factors. Consequently, after harvesting more than one million acres a year during the 1950s, by the twenty-first century the number was less than two hundred thousand acres. The gathering of 600,000 bales annually in the 1940s fell to 200,000 to 300,000 bales after 1960.
As such changes occurred, the state's southwestern region continued as the leading center for cotton production. Tillman and Jackson counties normally harvested approximately 50 percent of the state's crop by the 1980s. Although farmers in the former county devoted most of their acreage to dry-land operations, those in the latter frequently led the state in irrigated production. Jackson County operators lived in the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, which began distributing surface water by canals from Lake Altus-Lugert in 1948. In addition, cotton growers there and elsewhere had access to underground sources delivered by submersible pumps.
Initially, row-crop irrigation from surface sources and wells included furrow systems utilizing drainage ditches, as well as plastic, rubber, or aluminum siphon tubes, which required extensive labor. However, center-pivot sprinkler systems introduced in the 1970s, along with the later improvements of nozzles lowered closer to the plants, reduced labor requirements and moisture wastage. Irrigated cotton generally yielded averages from five hundred to one thousand pounds per acre, and dry-land crops normally delivered half those amounts.
Technological changes after World War II modified Oklahoma's cotton industry. In addition to the replacement of animal power with ever-increasing tractor horsepower, farm sizes grew as sophisticated plows and planters permitted operators to till the soil and plant seed at uniform depths and intervals on as many as two hundred acres per day. Such equipment, coupled with mechanical pickers or strippers, reduced the growing and gathering of an acre of cotton from an average of 150 to 6.5 man-hours by 1970.
In the 1970s the introduction of the module altered cotton processing. This system permitted farmers to dump the harvested bolls directly from the picker or stripper into an onsite module builder, which compacted the raw cotton into bales. Once the compaction was completed, the builder moved to another site. Each module remained in the field until a truck carried it to a gin. Besides avoiding time-consuming transport, operators of larger and more modern plants were better prepared to begin the ginning process, which included cleaning the trash from the cotton, separating the seed from the lint, and compressing and packaging the approximately five-hundred-pound bales in synthetic bagging. With some of the larger facilities capable of processing as many as sixty bales per hour, there were only thirty-two gins in the state in 2003 the obsolete compresses had become storage warehouses.
Continuous scientific research led to production changes. Scientists at the Oklahoma State Agricultural Experiment Station, as well as those in private firms, experimented with improving cotton varieties, which introduced biotechnological traits possessing disease-, weed-, and insect-resistant qualities. Productivity was enhanced with the application of anhydrous ammonia and other fertilizers. Preplanting, preemergence, and postemergence herbicides provided greater weed control, lessening the need for hand laborers. Insecticides reduced damage by diseases and insects.
When the boll weevil threat reappeared in the 1990s, farmers, with the support of Oklahoma's Board of Agriculture, formed the Oklahoma Boll Weevil Eradication Organization and collected fees from growers to control the insects. In conjunction with mechanical harvesting, defoliants were sprayed to eliminate plant leaves. As crop production became more sophisticated and expensive, some growers hired consultants to advise them in their operations. Some larger operators integrated science and technology by utilizing global positioning systems, which continuously gathered information on designated plats by satellite to notify operators of any problems.
Just as the systems in producing cotton changed after World War II, so did cotton marketing. While the transporting of the harvest to privately owned or cooperative gins continued, growers became dependent upon firms such as the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association in Lubbock, Texas, which offered such services to Oklahoma producers as arranging for the classing of each bale under U.S. Department of Agriculture supervision, as well as providing customers with access to an electronic marketing system in the process of selling their crops. Furthermore, warehousing was available at the Oklahoma Cotton Cooperative Association at Altus, which handled the sales and delivery of the stored bales to buyers from both domestic and foreign firms.
Farmers in Oklahoma's north-central counties began adapting to changing economic and environmental conditions in the 1990s. Although cotton had been planted there on a small scale, the region was wheat, corn, and sorghum country. Yet certain factors resurrected the consideration of the crop. Implementation of the International Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, also known as the Freedom to Farm Act, in 1995, authorized producers to plant any program crop in their base acreage and receive benefits. This advantage led some operators to consider cotton at a time when its cost/price ratio was more favorable than their regular crops. Those who irrigated learned that cotton did not require as much water. The availability of short-season and short-fiber varieties, along with the absence of boll weevils, made the idea attractive.
Consequently, in north-central Oklahoma acreage planted in cotton went from zero in 1992 to twenty-four thousand acres in 2000. Yields averaged from three hundred to six hundred pounds per acre. Although the amount of land seeded and the yields varied intermittently after 1995, the flexibility displayed by Oklahoma farmers in this development, as in the past, indicated that cotton would remain an important commodity in the state's agricultural system.
Karen Gerhardt Britton, Bale o' Cotton: The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998).
Gilbert C. Fite, "Development of the Cotton Industry by the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory," Journal of Southern History 15 (August 1949).
Gilbert C. Fite, "Mechanization of Cotton Production Since World War II," Agricultural History 54 (January 1980).
Norman Arthur Graebner, "Pioneer Indian Agriculture in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 23 (Autumn 1945).
Donald E. Green, A History of the Oklahoma State University Division of Agriculture (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1990).
Leo Kelley, "'I Should Have Been a Mule': Cotton Pickin' in Southwestern Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 76 (Summer 1998).
Garry L. Nall, "King Cotton in Oklahoma, 1825–1939," in Rural Oklahoma, ed. Donald E. Green (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977).
Cameron L. Saffell, "From Wagon to Module: New Ways of Handling Cotton," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 73 (1997).
James Smallwood, "The Southern Plains and the Expansion of the Cotton Kingdom," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 56 (1980).
M. Reneé Albers Nelson and Laval M. Verhalen, "J. A. Webb, Early-Day Cotton Breeder from Union City, Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 84 (Winter 2006-07).
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CottonCotton Boll Cotton, perhaps more than anything else, was the driving economic force in the creation of Alabama. The search for land to grow cotton attracted the first settlers into the state's river valleys. Cotton also created the two dominant labor systems, slavery in the Old South and sharecropping in the New South. The cotton-based economy also produced cycles of boom and bust resulting from the Civil War, the boll weevil infestation, government crop controls (such as acreage allotments and yield quotas), competition from foreign growers, and other factors. In the early days of cotton production, it was used primarily for fabric, but today cotton has a wide range of uses. Cotton lint is still used for textiles, and the fuzz left on the cotton seed after ginning (referred to as linter) is used in a variety of products: explosives, upholstery, writing paper, U.S. currency, and film and videotape. The oil extracted from cottonseed is used in cooking, cosmetics, soap, and many other items. The seed husk and the material that remains after oil extraction is used for fertilizer and livestock feed. Although cotton is no longer "king" in Alabama agriculture, it is still an important part of the state's economy. Of the 17 states that produce cotton, Alabama ranks about seventh. Butler County Cotton Field 1937 Indigenous to warm climates throughout the world, cotton was well known to ancient agricultural societies. The Greek historian Herodotus mentioned "tree-wool" grown in India, and other ancient writers recorded its cultivation in Egypt, Asia Minor, China, Greece, Africa, Italy and several Mediterranean islands. In Mexico, the Aztecs grew cotton, which they spun and wove into very fine cloth, long before Christopher Columbus reported cotton growing in the West Indies. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto noted in his journal the use of a "delicate white cloth" by Indians of the South. It is uncertain when European settlers first cultivated cotton in Alabama, but one early historian believed it was in production by 1772. One of the first cotton planters in Alabama was Joseph Collins, a surveyor for the Spanish government at Mobile. In 1795, Collins imported 10 enslaved Africans from Kentucky and established a cotton plantation near Mobile. Collins may have set the pattern for future development of the Alabama plantation system, but the great northern river valleys of Alabama soon overshadowed Mobile's agricultural successes. Collins's importation of African slaves also demonstrated the importance of slave labor for the cultivation of cotton, and wherever cotton went slavery followed. Pratt Gin Company Factory These seeds were a major drawback to upland cotton because they are almost impossible to remove by hand from the staple. An average enslaved worker could extract seeds from only about 50 pounds a day. For this reason, cotton was generally shunned as a viable cash crop until the Whitney cotton gin became available in 1793. This remarkably simple invention stimulated cotton production by mechanically removing seeds, creating a lust for cotton land that quickly led to settlement and statehood for Alabama. Cotton Production 1860 Cotton is a very labor-intensive crop and requires abundant labor, thus African slaves were indispensable to plantation agriculture. As the white population of Alabama grew, so did the enslaved population and in certain areas of the state at a higher rate. Between 1810 and 1820, Alabama's white population grew by about 1,000 percent, reaching 127,901 by 1820. The enslaved population grew by about the same rate in southwest Alabama, the Black Belt region, and the Tennessee Valley. Between 1810 and 1860, the enslaved population of the Tennessee River Valley grew from about 20 percent of the total population to almost 53 percent. The slave presence in the Black Belt was even higher. Slaves made up only 30 percent of the total population in 1819, but 40 years later the ratio in many areas had risen to well over 50 percent of the region's total population. Cotton Slide Just before the Civil War, cotton made up about 60 percent of all U.S. exports, prompting southerners to believe that "King Cotton" would shield them from political domination by the northern states and serve as a viable economic force in the creation of the Confederate States of America. Neither belief proved true. As the Civil War unfolded in 1861, southern ports were blockaded and cotton piled up on the docks, but production continued. The price of cotton in 1861 was .13 a pound and three years later prices had risen to $1.01 a pound, making it hard for the state government to convince Alabama farmers to plow under their cotton fields to plant corn and other food crops. As early as September 1861, Gov. Andrew B. Moore urged farmers to switch from cotton to food crops, and the state legislature even placed a .10 per pound tax on all seed cotton over 2,500 pounds per laborer in order to limit production. Thus, if cotton was bringing .13 per pound on the market, the tax reduced the value of all cotton over 2,500 pounds per worker to a mere .03. But Alabama farmers were slow to respond and continued to produce more cotton than they could sell. Cotton Harvesting, ca. 1930s Various labor solutions were proposed in Alabama, including importing German immigrants from northern states and workers from China. Neither of these proved to be practical, and some other form of labor had to be found. At the prompting of the Freedman's Bureau, the system that eventually evolved was based on sharecropping and tenancy. Although these two terms are sometimes viewed as synonymous, they are not. Tenant farmers typically rent land for cash, whereas sharecroppers are laborers who keep a portion of the crop they produce. Sharecropping, which came to be the most dominant labor system throughout Alabama, was designed for freedpeople who had nothing to bring into a rental agreement except their ability to work. Whites from the hill county also came down into the river valleys to sharecrop, but they generally were restricted to marginal land until the latter part of the nineteenth century. This system was in full operation by the 1870s, and although it shared many of the harsh aspects of slavery, it gave freed people a certain degree of independence. By 1920, some 78 percent of Alabamians still lived on farms, and 58 percent of those farms were operated by tenant farmers. In 1930, the ratio of tenant farmers rose to 65 percent, whereas there were 37,600 white and 27,500 black sharecroppers. Boll Weevil Alabama cotton farmers suffered another huge setback in 1910, when the boll weevil, a small Central American insect that feeds on cotton, first reached the state. Within a few years, the insects had devastated Alabama's cotton fields, and by 1916, cotton production dropped from 155 pounds to 95 pounds per acre. Many farmers, especially in south Alabama, turned to growing peanuts until the boll weevil blight passed. Cotton Barge on the Warrior River Several federal programs attempted to aid southern cotton farmers in the 1920s, but little was accomplished until Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted his New Deal programs in response to the Great Depression. The president signed into law the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a bill supported by Alabama senator John Hollis Bankhead II, which paid cotton farmers to plow under one-third of their crops to reduce production and raise cotton prices. The act helped landowners but hurt many sharecroppers, who made up most of the farming population, because their labor was no longer needed. Later, Bankhead and his brother William, a congressman, co-sponsored the Cotton Control Act of 1934, which limited the number of bales a farmer could produce. In 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933 unconstitutional in United States v. Butler. Congress and the president responded by enacting the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, partly drafted by Bankhead, which mandated price supports for cotton and other crops. This act also created the cotton allotment program, which required farmers to plant a specified number of acres of cotton and established a quota system to balance supply and demand. Baldwin County Cotton Farm Cotton farmers in the South and in Alabama also had to deal with labor problems throughout much of the twentieth century. A massive exodus of African Americans from the South and out of farming, part of the Great Migration, created a shortage of farm workers. There was also a loss of farm labor to war industries and the armed forces during World War I and World War II. Only about 80,000 Alabamians served in the military during World War I, but that number jumped to 321,00 during World War II. The solution to labor shortages was mechanization for those who could afford it, and family-based farming such as sharecropping for those who could not.
Old Rotation Experiment Field At the start of the twenty-first century, it is difficult to determine the future of cotton production in Alabama. Factors such as changing weather patterns, the high cost of machinery, changing agricultural policies, world trade issues, rising input costs, and alternative choices in fabrics will all affect the future of cotton production in Alabama. There is the distinct possibility that the crop that gave rise to Alabama and that has both cost and benefited the state so much in so many ways might become only a minor crop. After decades of acreage reduction, cotton appeared to be making a comeback as one of the mainstays of Alabama agriculture. In 2017, farmers planted 435,000 acres of cotton and harvested 343,000 acres, with 931 pounds per acre. But since the year 2000, cotton acreage has gone from about half of the planted acres of the big four row crops in Alabama (corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans) to about a quarter of the acreage. For the time being, however, cotton remains a very important part of the state's agricultural economy.
Davis, Charles S. Cotton Kingdom in Alabama. 1939. Reprint, Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1974.
Baffes, John. 2005. The Cotton Problem. World Bank Research Observer 20 (1): 109 – 144.
Baffes, John. 2005. The History of Cotton Trade: From Origin to the Nineteenth Century. In Cotton Trading Manual, ed. Secretariat of the International Cotton Advisory Committee. Cambridge, U.K.: Woodhead Publishing Limited.
Baffes, John, and Ioannis Kaltsas. 2004. Cotton Futures Exchanges: Their Past, Their Present, and Their Future. Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture 43: 153 – 176.
Brubaker, C. L., F. M. Bourland, and J. F. Wendel. 1999. The Origin and Domestication of Cotton. In Cotton: Origin, History, Technology, and Production, eds. C. Wayne Smith and J. Tom Cothren. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Hammond, Mathew Brown. 1897. An Essay in American Economic History. New York: Johnson Reprint Co.
International Cotton Advisory Committee. 2003. Production and Trade Policies Affecting the Cotton Industry. Washington, D.C.: Author.
International Cotton Advisory Committee. 2005. The Structure of World Trade. Cotton: Review of the World Situation 58 (January-February): 11 – 15.