May 15, 1824
The cottonseed industry grew slowly as machinery for the two essential processes of hulling or crushing the seed and pressing it was devised, operated, and sold in the late eighteen twenties and early thirties
The Rise of the American Cottonseed Oil Industry
Attempts to produce cottonseed oil were made in South Carolina about 18I5, some of them failing for lack of hulling the seed, though tests in lamps “in comparison with spermaceti oil” showed that the cottonseed oil “was decidedly the best.“′
Additional efforts and experiments were made in the Carolinas and Virginia in the twenties. Niles’ Register, May 15, 1824, cited the Raleigh Register on the subject of an “Interesting Discovery” by Professor Olmsted, of the University of North Carolina. He had “ascertained that a fine illuminating gas may be obtained from cottonseed,” in the proportion of twice as much from a bushel as from New Castle coal. This use of cottonseed had been suggested by a Baltimore man, who had experimented with extracting oil from cottonseed and written an article on the subject. Southern cottonseed might illuminate nearly every city in the United States!
Machinery for the two essential processes of hulling or crushing the seed and pressing it was devised, operated, and sold in the late twenties and early thirties by Francis Follett and Jabez Smith, of Petersburg, Virginia, who attracted attention in the Carolinas and Georgia. These men wrote in 1833 that they had erected three cottonseed oil mills on their own account, while several mills of their manufacture had been set up by others, and that business based on their machines was “progressing rapidly in the cotton growing states in the west.” They claimed for their largest hulling machine a capacity of sixty bushels of hulled kernels in ten hours.6 Two horses furnished the power; an air current from a fan separated the hulls and kernels after the seed was crushed between two revolving stones. Follett and Smith’s pressing arrangement included haircloth envelopes in mortars, with pestles for forcing the oil out of the crushed seed as in the making of linseed oil.7
Superiority was claimed for a machine of a different type in operation at Athens, Georgia. This machine used a block-and-spike system for hulling the seed, and the press that accompanied it sold for $750.8 It was mentioned in 1829 that oil was being extracted from cottonseed at New York for 15 cents a gallon, or for 5 cents a gallon if the cake was retained at the mill, with a slight additional charge for refining the oil, and that Gideon Palmer was operating a machine at New London, Connecticut.9
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