Bale o' Cotton
The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning
Business History - Southern History
8.5 x 11, 160 pp.
109 b&w photos. Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 02/19/2015
Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University
Price:        $19.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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1993 Certificate of Commendation, sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History
1993 Publication Award, sponsored by the San Antonio Conservation Society

Bale o' Cotton

The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning

By Karen Gerhardt Britton Fort

Bale o' Cotton: The Mechanical Art of Cotton Ginning offers a unique blend of fact and folklore about cotton ginning, the process that takes cotton from the field, separates fibers from seeds, and packages the lint into a bale for shipment to market. It traces the development of the industry, the equipment, and the techniques of this integral facet of American life from its English beginnings in 1793, through its heyday in the American South, to its present technological peak.

Out of the long days spent in the gin plant, a rich oral tradition developed, which included a broad sense of general history and an understanding of worldwide markets, an appreciation for the music of the machine (especially the steam engine), legendary individuals, and a folklore based on practical jokes. But the language, traditions, and cultural practices that developed around the cotton gin are now rapidly becoming extinct as modern technology eliminates the risks, inventiveness, and close working relationships between ginners and machines.

To document and preserve the memory of this way of life, Karen Gerhardt Britton has collected material from numerous interviews with ginners, inventors, laborers, and historians. The abundance of illustrations and the availability of never-before-published archival material, thanks to the generous cooperation of the ginning industry, make this a valuable and fascinating resource for historians and lay readers alike.

Karen Gerhardt Britton Fort, MA, a sixth-generation Texan, is the author of seven books, many articles, short stories, poems, and book reviews on cotton-related subjects and Texas history.  She lives in South Texas with her husband Tom A. Fort.

What Readers Are Saying:

"In this wonderfully comprehensive look at the history of the cotton industry, Addison writer Karen Britton has combined sound scholarship with folklore and legend to offer a poignant and accurate look at the history of the cotton industry. She concentrates on the entire national picture, particularly as it emerged in the fertile fields of the antebellum South and spread westward. . . . She shows how cotton was central to a way of life that has never completely faded from the Texas rural scene. . . . the perfect combination of scholarly study and entertaining reading matter."--Dallas Morning News

"Fulfills its purpose admirably. . . . Britton's volume should become a standard source for twentieth-century Texans interested in the technical aspects of ginning and the cotton business.”--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

" . . . a good introduction for the novice on the important technological developments from Eli Whitney's cotton engine to modern-day cotton processing technology. . . . for readers interested in cotton or the society that developed around the growth and production of cotton in the South.”--Choice

"If you talk to ten Texans (or Southerners, for that matter) over the age of forty, you'll likely find that five of them have had firsthand experience with the cruel crop. They'll remember it as the hardest work they ever did and appreciate the research and care that went into this fine volume.”--Waco Tribune-Herald

"What might have been a dry, technical study of the cotton industry is a warm, readable book in the hands of this author who concentrates on the human side of the story.”--Password (El Paso County Historical Society)

"An attractive blend of valuable information and pleasant reading. . .”--Georgia Historical Quarterly

"Up to now no single study has traced the technological progress of cotton ginning and its relation to the production of this important crop. . . . a fine contribution to an important part of American agricultural and economic history."--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"Author Karen Gerhardt Britton's research includes interviews with not only ginners and compressors but also farmers and fieldhands. She also manages to deal successfully with the idea of cotton as the centerpiece of culture in parts of the Belt. It's indexed, contains lots of unusual photos, and is a good read."--Farm Journal

"A nicely done book. . . "--Journal of Southern History

"Bale o' Cotton constitutes a welcome addition to Texas history, the historical literature on the history of technology, the South, and in part preserves the cultural practices, traditions, and language that grew up around the cotton gin."--Panhandle-Plains Historical Review

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