See also Cotton on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.


Cotton. As early as 1500 B. C. the people of India—and by 1200 B. C, the Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians—with primitive appliances, were making cotton cloth of a quality which has been surpassed only by the most skillful manufacturers during the last half century. Cotton either in its wild or cultivated state was used at the date of the discovery of America in practically every country within the 40th parallels of north and south latitude, except in what is now the United States.

Cotton is now cultivated in the United States on nearly all kinds of soils, south of latitude 37, artificial fertilizers being used to increase the yield, or hasten ripening on soils not naturally adapted to it.


The plant belongs to the Malvaceae, or Mallow family, and is known by the generic name Gossipium. It is a perennial, but under cultivation usually becomes an annual or biennial. Culture in the United States is practically confined to two species, the silky, long-staple Sea Island cotton—G. barbadence—grown in the lowland coasts and coastal islands of Georgia and South Carolina; and Upland cotton—G. hirsutum—which is of two sorts, short cotton and Upland long-staple cotton. The flowers somewhat resemble single holly-hock blooms and continue to form until frost, opening their pale creamy petals one morning in full maturity for insect pollination, fading to pink by noon, dark pink the second day, and by night are shrivelled ready to be pushed off in a few days by the swelling fruit or boll. Bolls vary from almost spherical to long narrow pointed capsules and are divided into 3, 4 or 5 segments. When the bolls split and the fibres fluff into a twisted mass, the cotton is ready for picking.


Cotton requires six or seven months of favorable growing weather between spring and fall frost to mature, but picking may extend far into the winter. It thrives in a very warm or even hot temperature, provided the atmosphere is moist, but it will mature a crop on less water than any other crop plant. Any sudden change in temperature, moisture or cultural methods is apt to cause an abortion of the young fruit and flowers.

Usually cotton is planted on ridges or “beds.” Fertilizers, when used, are generally drilled into the beds just before planting. The seed are usually drilled in—about one bushel per acre. When the plants are three or four inches high they are hoed or “chopped” out, single plants being left standing from 12 to 24 inches apart, distance depending upon luxuriance of growth and type of cotton.

Generally speaking the best concentrated fertilizer to be used is one containing soluble phosphoric acid, available potash and available nitrogen, although the nitrogen may be omitted if it has been previously supplied with green manure, legumes or barnyard manure.


Mechanical pickers have been devised, but do not show the discrimination of the human being in avoiding immature cotton, nor adaptability to the irregularities of the average cotton field. After picking, the cotton is hauled in large boxed wagons to the gin (see Eli Whitney). It is sucked from the wagon through long tubes and distributed directly to the several gins in the gin house. A continuation of this sucking or blowing apparatus collects the ginned cotton and passes it to the compress where it is compressed in large boxes. From the box it is swung around to the baler, further compressed, covered with coarse burlap and bound with metal straps. Each bale weighing about 500 lbs. is marked for identification and with its actual weight.


Cotton, the fibers of which are not over 1⅛ inches long is known as short cotton and is sold by grade from samples taken from each bale. Grading is based on color and relative amount of trash and stained fibers present. Short cotton constitutes the great bulk of that produced in this country and is used in making the cheaper grades of goods. Additional factors of length, strength and uniformity of fiber enter into the value of long staple cottons, premiums generally being given for each 1/14 inch in length. The finer fabrics, including muslins and laces (q. v.) are made from long staple cotton.

The linters or fuzz remaining on the seed of Upland cotton after ginning yields batting, wadding, stuffing for pads, etc., and “lambs wool” for fleece-lined underwear. The hulls are used in cattle feed, fertilizers and paper stock. From the seed oil is made, which is used in lard compounds, cooking and salad oils and soap stocks, while the “cake” (residue after pressing the oil from the kernels) is used in fertilizers, dye stuffs, cattle and poultry feed, confectionery and flour.


Cotton is subject to diseases, such as leaf blight, shedding of bolls, root, and boll rot and root galls.

The principal insect enemies are the cotton worm, the boll worm, and the Mexican boll weevil. Of these, the weevil is the worst, but by community effort the number of early weevils may generally be so reduced that a crop may be well advanced before the insects become hopelessly abundant.

U. S. Department of Agriculture.