March 2, 1799
In 1799 a patent was granted to Charles Whiting, of Massachusetts, for extracting oil from cottonseed.
WHITING, CHARLES; EXTRACTING OIL FROM COTTON SEEDS; 2 MAR 1799
The annual dollar value of American cottonseed and cottonseed products runs into a few hundred millions, andthe seed from a bale of cotton approximates in monetaryreturn a bale of lint cotton in earlier days. This development is due primarily to the extraction, or expression, of the oil from cottonseed; by 1890 this industry was important enough to be given a distinct place in the federal census and to have occasioned the formation of an important trust. The development after the Civil War has led one writer to observe that cottonseed was garbage in 1860, fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, “tablefood and many things else” in 1890.′ Indeed, many an antebellum cotton gin was set up on the bank of a stream so that the seed would be washed away. This practice called forth legislation, the Revised Code of Mississippi of 1857, for instance, providing a fine of $200 for dumping cottonseed in any stream usedfor drinking or fishing purposes. The same law contained a provision to prevent ginners from allowing seed to accumulate within half a mile of a city or village, as destruction or removal was necessary for reasons of health.
Yet there were a few cottonseed oil mills in existence in 1860, and the industry had its beginnings long before this date, withexperimentation, inventions, business ventures, and prophecies. Twenty-three years prior to the invention of the cotton gin a group of Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, sent specimensof oils from cottonseed and from sunflower seed to the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia. They had hulled the cottonseed and produced the oil in much the same way as linseed oil was made, getting six pints of oil from a bushel of seed.3 Cottonseed oil was said at this time to be used medicinally in the West Indies. In 1783 the London Society of Arts offered a gold medal for oil and cake made from cottonseed by a British West India planter, noting the value of the cake for cattle feed. This offer was not met, perhaps because it was conditioned on ton productions. The South Carolina Agricultural Society soon afterward offered a medal for oil from cottonseed and other oleaginous seed, and in 1799 a patent was granted to Charles Whiting, of Massachusetts, for extracting oil from cottonseed.4