Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765, the eldest child of Eli Whitney Sr., a prosperous farmer
Whitney was born in Westborough, Massachusetts, on December 8, 1765, the eldest child of Eli Whitney Sr., a prosperous farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Fay, also of Westborough.
Although the younger Eli, born in 1765, could technically be called a "Junior", history has never known him as such. He was famous during his lifetime and afterward by the name "Eli Whitney". His son, born in 1820, also named Eli, was well known during his lifetime and afterward by the name "Eli Whitney, Jr."
Whitney's mother, Elizabeth Fay, died in 1777, when he was 11. At age 14 he operated a profitable nail manufacturing operation in his father's workshop during the Revolutionary War.
Because his stepmother opposed his wish to attend college, Whitney worked as a farm laborer and school teacher to save money. He prepared for Yale at Leicester Academy (now Becker College) and under the tutelage of Rev. Elizur Goodrich of Durham, Connecticut, he entered the class of 1789 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1792.
He was famous during his lifetime and afterward by the name "Eli Whitney".
At age 14 he operated a profitable nail manufacturing operation in his father's workshop
Whitney expected to study law but, finding himself short of funds, accepted an offer to go to South Carolina as a private tutor.
Petition by Whitney to the selectmen of Westborough to run a public school, with sample of his penmanship
Instead of reaching his destination, he was convinced to visit Georgia. In the closing years of the 18th century, Georgia was a magnet for New Englanders seeking their fortunes (its Revolutionary-era governor had been Lyman Hall, a migrant from Connecticut). When he initially sailed for South Carolina, among his shipmates were the widow and family of the Revolutionary hero Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island. Mrs. Greene invited Whitney to visit her Georgia plantation, Mulberry Grove. Her plantation manager and husband-to-be was Phineas Miller, another Connecticut migrant and Yale graduate (class of 1785), who would become Whitney's business partner.
Whitney is most famous for two innovations which later divided the United States in the mid-19th century: the cotton gin(1793) and his advocacy of interchangeable parts. In the South, the cotton gin revolutionized the way cotton was harvestedand reinvigorated slavery. In the North the adoption of interchangeable parts revolutionized the manufacturing industry, and contributed greatly to the U.S. victory in the Civil War.