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  • This is the story of an invention that changed the world.

  • Imagine a machine that could cut 10 hours of work down to one.

  • A machine so efficient that it would free up people to do other things, kind of like the personal computer.

  • But the machine I'm going to tell you about did none of this.

  • In fact, it accomplished just the opposite.

  • In the late 1700s, just as America was getting on its feet as a republic under the new U.S Constitution, slavery was a tragic American fact of life.

  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both became President while owning slaves, knowing that this peculiar institution contradicted the ideals and principles for which they fought a revolution.

  • But both men believed that slavery was going to die out as the 19th century dawned.

  • They were, of course, tragically mistaken.

  • The reason was an invention, a machine they probably told you about in elementary school: Mr. Eli Whitney's cotton gin.

  • A Yale graduate, 28-year-old Whitney had come to South Carolina to work as a tutor in 1793.

  • Supposedly he was told by some local planters about the difficulty of cleaning cotton.

  • Separating the seeds from the cotton lint was tedious and time consuming.

  • Working by hand, a slave could clean about a pound of cotton a day, but the Industrial Revolution was underway, and the demand was increasing.

  • Large mills in Great Britain and New England were hungry for cotton to mass produce cloth.

  • As the story was told, Whitney had a "eureka moment" and invented the gin, short for engine.

  • The truth is that the cotton gin already existed for centuries in small but inefficient forms.

  • In 1794, Whitney simply improved upon the existing gins and then patented his "invention": a small machine that employed a set of cones that could separate seeds from lint mechanically, as a crank was turned.

  • With it, a single worker could eventually clean from 300 to one thousand pounds of cotton a day.

  • In 1790, about 3,000 bales of cotton were produced in America each year. A bale was equal to about 500 pounds.

  • By 1801, with the spread of the cotton gin, cotton production grew to 100 thousand bales a year.

  • After the destructions of the War of 1812, production reached 400 thousand bales a year.

  • As America was expanding through the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, yearly production exploded to four million bales. Cotton was king.

  • It exceeded the value of all other American products combined, about three fifths of America's economic output.

  • But instead of reducing the need for labor, the cotton gin propelled it, as more slaves were needed to plant and harvest king cotton.

  • The cotton gin and the demand of Northern and English factories re-charted the course of American slavery.

  • In 1790, America's first official census counted nearly 700 thousand slaves.

  • By 1810, two years after the slave trade was banned in America, the number had shot up to more than one million.

  • During the next 50 years, that number exploded to nearly four million slaves in 1860, the eve of the Civil War.

  • As for Whitney, he suffered the fate of many an inventor.

  • Despite his patent, other planters easily built copies of his machine, or made improvements of their own. You might say his design was pirated.

  • Whitney made very little money from the device that transformed America.

  • But to the bigger picture, and the larger questions: What should we make of the cotton gin?

  • History has proven that inventions can be double-edged swords. They often carry unintended consequences.

  • The factories of the Industrial Revolution spurred innovation and an economic boom in America.

  • But they also depended on child labor, and led to tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed more than 100 women in 1911.

  • Disposable diapers made life easy for parents, but they killed off diaper delivery services.

  • And do we want landfills overwhelmed by dirty diapers?

  • And of course, Einstein's extraordinary equation opened a world of possibilities.

  • But what if one of them is Hiroshima?

This is the story of an invention that changed the world.


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B2 中上級

TED-ED】発明はいかにして歴史を変えるか(良くも悪くも) - ケネス・C・デイビス (【TED-Ed】How inventions change history (for better and for worse) - Kenneth C. Davis)

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    VoiceTube に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日