In this article, all important facts and figures on cotton are explained. Everything you need to know about cotton is explained in this article. About it's history. How does cotton grow, where does it grow? No one really knows how old cotton is. But when is cotton discovered? Researchers, who are looking for open cotton "Bollcaves", have found evidence of cotton balls and cotton clothing that is at least 7,000 years old. They also found cotton that is comparable with the cotton that we now know. That is the first registration of cotton in our time.
History of cotton: the first clothing
Near the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was grown and woven into (cotton) fabrics since 3,000 BC. Around the same time near the Egyptian Nile, the first pieces of clothing were made from cotton.
Arabic traders brought the cotton fabrics to Europe around 800 AD. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, growing cotton near the Bahamas was already mentioned.
From 1500 AD, cotton was adopted and widely used worldwide.
Researchers claim that the Ancient Egyptians already had the use of cotton in 12,000 BC and that cotton was found in Mexican caves (cotton fabric and fragments of fibers woven with feathers and fur) which are 7,000 years old.
History of cotton: first cottonseeds in America
Cottonseeds were first planted around 1556 in Florida and 1607 in Virginia. Many colonists were growing cotton on the fields near the James River in Virginia from 1616.
Cotton was first spun mechanically in England in 1730. Both the Industrial Revolution as well as the invention of the cotton 'gin', provide an incredible growth in the production of cotton fabrics.
The oldest cotton in history
The oldest source refers to Indian cotton. Cotton is grown in India for over three thousand years and is referenced in the holy scriptures (Vedas). Two thousand year later, the Greek historian Herod wrote about Indian cotton: "There are trees that grown in the wild, and the fruit of which is a wool that is more beautiful and better than that of sheep. The Indians make their clothes of this cottonwool.."
Cotton is grown in India for over three thousand years and is referenced in the holy scriptures (Vedas). Two thousand years later, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about Indian cotton: "There are trees that grow in the wild, and the fruit of which is a wool that is more beautiful and better than that of sheep, the Indians make their clothes of this cottonwool."
History of cotton: What is a cotton gin?
A cotton gin is a machine that separates the cotton fiber from the seeds. The fibers are further processed into woven fabrics, and the seeds are used for growing cotton - or for the production of cottonseed oil. The first modern mechanical 'cotton gin' was created by the American inventor Eli Whitney in 1793 and patented in 1794. Incidentally, the name Noah Homes is also mentioned as possible inventor two years earlier. The invention of the cotton gin brought enormous improvements in the manufacturing of cotton and therefore the cultivation of cotton. Cotton fabrics were woven up to 10 times faster.
The cotton gin makes it possible to deliver large quantities of cotton thread to the cotton industry. Within 10 years, the value of the total cotton harvest increased from $150,000 to more than $8 million.
Cotton processing moves to England
The Indian cotton industry declined during the time of the British Industrial Revolution. The invention of the Spinning Jenny (1764) and the spinning machine of Richard Arkwright (1769) made cheaper mass production possible in the United Kingdom. The production capacity was further enhanced when Eli Whitney invented a machine that could quickly separate cotton fiber from the seed pods and often sticky seeds in 1793.
Nowadays, cotton is produced in all parts of the world, using cotton plants that are selectively bred so that every plant yields more fiber. In 2002, cotton was grown on 33 million hectares of farmland. This produced 21,3 million tons of raw cotton, with a value of 20 billion dollar.
Everything about cotton - why is cotton important?
Nowadays, our society uses more cotton than any other (thread) material. And cotton is one of the most money-making crops in the United States. Looking at the level of the farm, more than 4.7 million Euros ($ 5.3 billion) was spent on facilities and services. The growth of cotton also provides all kinds of trades for other companies and factories in the chain.
The cotton production provides an enormous economic activity
Further in the chain, the growth of cotton generates more economic activity. Annually, more than 120 billion Euro is spent as a result of the growing of cotton.
A part of our daily life: cotton
Cotton has become a part of our daily live. We dry our faces and bodies with cotton towels and sleep at night under warm (cotton) wool. It can truly be used for anything, from jeans to a shoelace in clothing. Cotton is mainly used for homes and clothing, but heaps of cotton are also used in industrial processes.
The use of the cotton plant: the cotton hair/lint and the cotton linter
Most parts of the cotton plant are used. The most important part is the cotton hair or literally the cotton 'lint' that is used for the fabrication of cotton fabric. Cotton lint (cotton fibers that remain on the cotton balls) are being used for the making of cellulose for the fabrication of plastic and even explosives.
Cotton lint is also used for the production of high quality paper products, mattresses, furniture and car seats.
The use of the cotton plant: the cottonseeds
The cottonseeds are pulverized, creating three different products: oil, flour and zest. Cottonseed oil is used for cooking and in salad dressings. The flour and the skins are, either separately or both together, used as food for livestock, poultry or fish and as fertilizer.
The other parts of the cotton plants such as the leaves and the stems are used to enrich the soil for the next harvest.
Everything about cotton - where does cotton grow?
Where does cotton grow? Cotton grows in the warmer climates all over the world. Cotton is primarily grown in the United States, Uzbekistan, China and India. But it also grows in other countries including Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey. The cotton production is also important for Burkina Faso, Mali and Benin. Burkina Faso and Mali are dependent on cotton for more than 80% of their export, Benin for more than 55%.
Where does cotton grow: tropical and sub-tropical countries
Cotton plants need a lot of sun and warmth. They also need plenty of water. Cotton plants, therefore, are mainly grown in the tropical and sub-tropical countries. Cotton is almost always grown on large cotton plantations nowadays.
Where and how does cotton grow? Cotton in the United States
In the United States, about 1.3 bales of cotton and 1078 pounds of seed are won per hectare. One bale of cotton is around 500 pounds. The profit per surface area is today almost twice as much as in 1950. This is due to the better use of the land, improved plant variety, use of machines, fertilization and improved irrigation. Also, diseases , weeds and insects are better contained. During the years, many technical and organic research has been conducted, which found its way back to the fields.
Interesting enough, a lot of cotton is still grown in the United States and especially in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Kansas and Virginia.
Cotton grows everywhere in the world: American cotton
Generally speaking, cotton grows in the developed and less-developed countries. However, the difference in cultivation of cotton between the two is enormous. The cotton production in the United States is determined by strong standardized and mechanical circumstances. The cotton is genetically modified and optimized, and innovations are used immediately to improve the growing conditions: it has become a 'sport' to harvest as much cotton per area as possible. The cotton that is called "American Cotton" is therefore always very consistent: it is always white, it is always just as white as the last time, it has longer strands, it produces a lot of (cotton) hairs and is widely available. Even brands of cotton are developed, one of which is SUPIMA (special selected cotton with only the longest strands).
Cotton grows everywhere in the world: the other continents
Cotton production in the rest of the world is less developed, but not non-developed. Pesticides, seed improvement and machines are used everywhere. It couldn't be any other way, in order to keep up with the large market in cotton. A lot of cotton in other countries is cheaper and is more often mixed with other cotton species. It is also more and more difficult for factories to determine exactly which fabrics are made of which type of cotton.
More than 20 billion dollar in cotton
Nowadays, cotton is produced in all parts of the world using selectively bred cotton plants so that each plant yields more cotton. In 2002, cotton was grown on 33 million hectare farmland. This produced 21.3 million tons raw cotton with a value of 20 billion dollar.
Unrecognized cotton cultivation is harmful to the environment
The conventional cotton production is harmful to the environment and a hazard to the health of the farmers who grow it. This becomes clear in a research report from the University of Wageningen (Sustainability of cotton, the consequences for humans and the environment (April, 2006)). A lot of fertilizer and pesticides are necessary to make cotton grow properly. Of the total amount of pesticides that are used worldwide, 11% is used in the cotton production. For pesticides the number is 25%. These are often very toxic agents, which are already banned a long time ago in our country.
Everything about cotton - how does cotton grow
How does cotton grow? Cotton grows on a plant. The cultivated plants are often not taller than one meter. This is very useful for the picking. Cotton plants will bloom every year. When the flowers are gone, the fruits will come. When these fruits are ripe, they jump open and they will look like cotton balls. This is called cotton lint. The cottonseeds are located within this lint. The lint will be used later to make cotton.
What kind of plant is cotton?
The cotton plant is a 'Gossypium' and belongs to the mallow family. There are almost 300 different cotton plants around. Some of which are suitable for the making of cotton products. The cotton plant does not grown naturally in the north of Europe. The plant does not like cold weather, but loves the sun. The plant does need at least 500 milliliters of rain per year. The plant grows like a bush up to a height of about 3 meters, depending on the growth circumstances such as temperature, sun and rain.
How does cotton grow: Development of the cotton plant
When the ripe fruits of the cotton plant open up, more than half a million cotton lint will come out. The strong single-celled hairs of cellulose are the means of transport for the seeds. The hairs make sure that the wind can come underneath and catch the seed. This is the way of spreading and reproduction.
The cotton lint does not get very far
In reality, it doesn't get this far. Before the seed gets a chance to move, a large machine will pull the lint of the plants. A harvesting machine can easily harvest 80,000 kilo lint per day. In poorer countries, some cotton farmers still harvest the cotton by hand. Experienced pickers can harvest around 200 kilo cotton per day.
How does cotton grow: How is it harvested?
A large amount of cotton is grown on large cotton plantations: large fields with thousands of cotton plants. On these plantations, cotton balls are harvested with the use of machines. In the somewhat poorer countries, the cotton fields are cared for by hand and the cotton is also harvested by hand. That is a heavy undertaking.
Cotton processing in a factory
The cotton balls are brought to a factory where the seeds are separated from the lint. The lint will go on to a dryer, which makes the moisture evaporate from the fibers. This will make the lint stronger. After this, the residues that don't belong in the cotton, are taken out followed by combing: a kind of comb pulls the cotton fibers through little holes where the seeds cannot fit through. This way, seeds and fibers are separated. This is done by a machine today, but some time ago, this was done manually. Someone was busy all day to comb through a half kilo of cotton lint.
Almost all parts of a cotton plant are used
All the products that are 'left over' from the process are further used. The seed hulls end up as animal food or as fuel. The seeds themselves are useful as seed material, or the oil is pressed out of them. In products such as mayonnaise, margarine of cooking oil, cotton oil is sometimes use, but the oil can also be further processed in cosmetics, soap, rubber and even explosives.
The leftover lint material ends up in cotton wool, tampons and felt. The shorter cotton fibers are often separated from the longer ones. These shorter fibers can be part of the raw material for the making of paper. The longer fibers are carried around by us, in the cotton fabrics we wear. An example of this cotton is PIMA or SUPIMA, that is made from the longest fibers around.