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A Thread in Time: Cotton’s Story

By Blair McCowen

Just like the farmers who grow the fiber crop nationwide, cotton has a story to tell all its own. With origin debates varying from ancient Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Native American and Aztec civilizations, cotton has been sustaining life for its various cultivators for ages, not to mention competing in the world marketplace and impacting economies across the globe. Understanding the early years of the industry and its developments that occurred at key times is essential to discovering where it may go next.

Early 1500s: Cotton was grown by Native Americans in what would eventually become the United States (

1794: Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin. (

1834: The first commercially successful cottonseed oil mill was built in Natchez, Mississippi. The first in Texas was built by Leonard Waller in 1836 near Brenham. (

1836: Henry Blair develops the cotton seed planter. (

1850: Samuel S. Rembert and Jedidiah Prescott patented the first cotton stripper. (

1854: The Galveston Wharf and Cotton Compress company was founded as one of the first cotton storage entities for exporting cotton. (

1884: Robert S. Munger changed the ginning industry by moving from “plantation ginning” methods to the “system ginning” process still used today. (

1907: Uniform cotton standards (classing) are established by an international group of cotton industry representatives in Atlanta, Georgia. (

1930s: The Rust Brothers develop a one-row mechanical cotton picker. (

1953: PCCA is established to market West Texas farmers’ cotton.

1960: PCCA works to develop today’s High Volume Instrument Testing system.

1970: The module builder was developed. (Cotton Inc.)

1975: PCCA introduced TELCOT®, the first electronic marketing system for cotton.

1979: The first four-row cotton picker was developed. (

1989: PCCA develops the world’s first electronic warehouse receipts (EWR) to reduce marketing cost and speed up cotton shipment after it is sold.

1990: 74 percent of the Texas crop was gathered by strippers and 26 percent by pickers. 70 percent of this crop was ginned from modules and 30 percent from cotton trailers. (

2001: The Seam, an online cotton trading system, is established via a joint venture involving PCCA.

2009: Stripper-balers are introduced to the cotton industry. (

The previously mentioned industry-revolutionizing developments also doubled as important economic impacts that built and continue to sustain rural communities today. According to the National Cotton Council, “Total economic activity stimulated by the crop in the U.S. economy is estimated at over $75 billion.” The Council also outlines some contributions to the $75 billion, including: $5.6 billion worth of inputs, labor and equipment; $920 million in fertilizer; $695 million in agricultural chemicals and $1 billion in seed.

For the 2016-17 crop, the cotton industry alone provided 32,627 total jobs in Texas, 2,144 total jobs in Oklahoma, 601 total jobs in Kansas, and 1,352 total jobs in New Mexico. Across the nation, cotton farms provided a total of 78,829 jobs.

Each identified number of jobs also indicates another family with a reliable income, another rural community strengthened, and another strong link added into the chain of agriculture. As the cotton industry continues to develop cutting-edge technologies and progresses successfully, a ripple effect takes place, and the benefits of one segment of the industry transfer to another. As a result, cotton retains its reign and continues to support generations to come.