Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows on the cotton plants.
It grows in a boll around the seeds of the plant.
The plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt and India.
The greatest diversity of wild cotton species is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. Cotton was independently domesticated in the Old and New Worlds.
Cotton is one of the world’s leading agricultural crops – plentiful and economically produced, making cotton products relatively inexpensive.
The oldest cotton textiles were found in graves and city ruins of civilizations from dry climates, where the fabrics did not decay completely.
Some of the oldest cotton bolls were discovered in a cave in Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, and were dated to approximately 5500 BC.
Cotton may have been domesticated around 5000 BC in eastern Sudan near the Middle Nile Basin region, where cotton cloth was being produced.
The latest archaeological discovery in Mehrgarh puts the dating of early cotton cultivation and the use of cotton to 5000 BC.
The cultivation of cotton and the knowledge of its spinning and weaving in Meroë (ancient city) reached a high level in the 4th century BC. The export of textiles was one of the sources of wealth for Meroë.
Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, mentions Indian cotton in the 5th century BC as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep.”
Troops of Alexander the Great that invaded India started wearing cotton clothes because they were more comfortable comparing to their woolen ones.
Strabo, another Greek historian, mentioned the vividness of Indian fabrics, and Arrian told of Indian–Arab trade of cotton fabrics in 130 AD.
Handheld roller cotton gins had been used in India since the 6th century, and was then introduced to other countries from there.
In the 8th century the Muslim conquest of Spain brings cotton to the rest of the Europe.
During the Middle Ages cotton was a fabric in common use. It was hand-woven on a loom until 1350s when the spinning wheel, introduced to Europe which improved the speed of cotton spinning.
Between the 12th and 14th centuries, dual-roller gins appeared in India and China.
The Indian version of the dual-roller gin was prevalent throughout the Mediterranean cotton trade by the 16th century. This mechanical device was, in some areas, driven by water power.
Christopher Columbus, in his explorations of the Bahamas and Cuba, found natives wearing cotton, a fact that may have contributed to his incorrect belief that he had landed on the coast of India.
Cotton remained a fairly minor crop until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by American inventor Eli Whitney. The cotton gin was a simple machine that removed the cotton fiber from the seeds so that part of the work no longer had to be done by hand.
This led to a tremendous increase in the amount of land used for cotton cultivation in the American South. In 1850, cotton accounted for just over half the value of all goods exported from the United States. From
1850 to 1860, the value of the American cotton crop doubled and was ten times the value of the tobacco crop, which had been the main cash crop of the South in the century before.
Since most of the cotton was grown and harvested by slave labor, the increase in the production of cotton meant that slavery expanded and became a much more important factor in American society. In 1784, when the first bale of American cotton was shipped to England, there were half a million slaves in the United States. In 1861, the start of the American Civil War, there were almost four million slaves.
Cotton remained a key crop in the Southern economy after slavery ended in 1865. Until mechanical cotton pickers were developed, cotton farmers needed additional labor to hand-pick cotton. Picking cotton was a source of income for families across the South. Rural and small town school systems had split vacations so children could work in the fields during “cotton-picking.
During the middle 20th century, employment in cotton farming fell, as machines began to replace laborers and the South’s rural labor force dwindled during the World Wars.
Cotton remains a major export of the United States, with large farms in California, Arizona and the Deep South.
China‘s Chang’e 4 brought cotton seeds to the Moon‘s far side. On 15 January 2019, China announced that a cotton seed sprouted, the first “truly otherworldly plant in history”. Inside the Von Kármán Crater, the capsule and seeds sit inside the Chang’e 4 lander.
The word “cotton” has Arabic origins, derived from the Arabic word قطن – qutn or qutun. This was the usual word for cotton in medieval Arabic. The word entered the Romance languages in the mid-12th century, and
English a century later.