The Shift from Short-Staple Cotton from the Old World to Long-Staple Cotton from the New World
Let us examine the trend in imports of long-staple raw cotton after the British became aware of the importance of improving the quality of cotton thread following the invention of the mule. Until the beginning of the 1790s, imports of raw cotton from the long-staple cotton-producing United States were not substantial. The turning point came in 1793 with Eli Whitney_s invention of his famous cotton gin, which made it possible to produce about 152 kilograms of cotton per man-day. In the year of this invention, total exports of raw cotton amounted to only 500,000 pounds (in weight), but this rose sharply to 1,600,000 pounds the following year, increased to more than tenfold to 17,790,000 pounds just six years later (1800), and reached 40,000,000 pounds in 1805. Exports to Britain of sea island cotton also increased sharply during roughly the same period even though Whitney_s cotton gin apparently could not be used for separating this type of cotton. Demand for sea island cotton was particularly high because it had the longest and finest staples, making it the most suitable type of raw cotton for fine thread spinning. Total exports of sea island cotton from South Carolina amounted to more than 90,000 pounds in 1793, rose to 160,000 pounds the following year, and had increased dramatically to 8,300,000 pounds by 1801. Most of these exports were to Britain. The period during which cotton exports from the United States to Britain rose most rapidly was the boom years of 1799 to 1802, when the United States became the world s biggest exporter to cotton to Britain. From the second half of the 1820s, American-produced cotton accounted for more than 70% of Britain_s cotton imports.
On the other hand, imports of short-staple raw cotton dropped. Asian-produced raw cotton, which accounted for about three-quarters of cotton imports and one-third of Britain_s total imports at the beginning of the eighteenth century, had lost its importance by the end of the century. In fact, the price of Asian cotton was considerably lower than American cotton. For this reason, Manchester requested the British East India Company to import Indian raw cotton in 1788 and 1799, but after it became clear that Indian cotton was not suitable for use in spinning machines the growing demand for American cotton turned into a flood.
To sum up, the British cotton industry made a decisive shift at the end of the eighteenth century from short-staple raw cotton from the Old World to long-staple raw cotton from the New World.
Indian Cotton Outstripped by British Cotton
As we have seen, the modern cotton quality paradigm of long-staple raw cotton _fine thread _fine cloth became established from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century. 99% of Britain_s cotton exports during the 30-year period from the last decade of the eighteenth century were to the pan-Atlantic region: Europe, Africa and America. British cotton had clearly superseded Indian cotton in this pan-Atlantic market. During the years 1784-86 cotton goods only accounted for 6% of Britain_s exports, but this increased to 16% in 1794_96, and reached 42% in 1804_06. Nearly all of these cotton goods found their way to Europe, Africa and America. The pan-Atlantic region thus became linked to Britain as a market for cotton goods through the development of raw materials from the New World and spinning technology. This commercial relationship came to be characterized by a three-cornered trade network based on exports of British cotton goods to Africa, transportation of African slaves to America, and exports of American raw cotton to Britain. Cotton, which had been one of the corners of the triangular Indian Ocean trade network, had become part of the three-cornered Atlantic Ocean trade network. Britain, the dominant country in Western Europe, had finally gained the ascendancy in the manufacture of one of the products of the East. In addition to giving notice of the establishment in Britain of a production base for global commerce, this foreshadowed the formation of the British view of India as a_developing country_ and its continuing sense of superiority as an _advanced nation._