Here in Seminole county, cotton is king, second only to peanuts. We are fortunate enough to have a local cotton gin, farmers with multiple generations of experience and good ground for the crop. No doubt that it has helped our local economy and shaped the culture of Seminole County. In school we learn about the cotton gin and other small facts on the crop, but very little on the history. Cotton has a very unique and interesting history that deserves a brief overview, especially considering its value to us here in Seminole.
Cotton is a unique plant in that it has varieties all over the world. It was domesticated in the Bahamas, China, Peru and other countries without ever being introduced by man. Some scientist believe that seeds somehow were able to float across the ocean on seaweed beds or other debris. The cotton seed of some species is fertile after long exposure to salt water and is even buoyant, making it possible to spread. These civilizations that independently cultivated cotton, designed similar tools for working its fibers. Examples of cotton combs and looms of different shapes and sizes can be found from different civilizations around the world.
As time passed the exposure and use of cotton spread to new countries. New products were created and further increased the demand for cotton. In the 1500’s, weavers in Nimes, France started to produce denim fabric. The word “denim” actually comes from the French phrase “serge de Nimes”, meaning “fabric of Nimes”. This French product would be turned into pants worn by sailors in Genoa, Italy. Then known as “genes” in French, of course today we Americans call them jeans.
The first cotton spinning factory was established in 1641 in Manchester, England. Around this time is when cotton began to be grown in large quantities in Virginia. Great Britain became the largest cotton processors of cotton in the 1760’s as their machinery improved during the industrial revolution. American cotton production continued to increase through the decades as well and spread to the southern states. When Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin in 1793, it took only a few years for the United States to become the largest exporter of cotton in the world.
Today, cotton is a 7 billion dollar business in America. Georgia produced a cotton crop worth over 980 million dollars in 2019, with Seminole County production equaling over 22 million. Needless to say, cotton is a major commodity for us here in Seminole and America. As cotton has changed and improved over the centuries, people still enjoy its products and depend upon it. Keep an eye out for our cotton boll consumer judging team in the paper as we send our 4-H kids to compete in November. Stay safe out there.