March 2, 1799
WHITING, CHARLES; EXTRACTING OIL FROM COTTON SEEDS; 2 MAR 1799
In 1799 a patent was granted to Charles Whiting, of Massachusetts, for extracting oil from cottonseed.
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
May 15, 1824
The Rise of the American Cottonseed Oil Industry
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
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
January 2, 1834
The Rise of the American Cottonseed Oil Industry
The first important undertaking to crush cottonseed in the United States was at Natchez, Mississippi, in 1834
However, the interest in cottonseed oil so far was more journalistic than commercial, for it has been rather generally assumed that the first important undertaking to crush cottonseed in the United States was at Natchez, Mississippi, in 1834,” and one might well expect that it would be in the Mississippi Valley that successful establishment would be accomplished of a business that was dependent on the combination of abundant cotton crops and economical transportation. Among those interested directly or indirectly in the Natchez project were J. H. Cooper and Samuel Plummer, of Georgia, Major Anderson Miller, of Louisville, a Virginian bearing the name of Follett, and Archibald Dunbar, of Mississippi. Mills were started at Mobile, Alabama, and Florence, Georgia, about the same time, and late in 1835 the Louisiana legislature incorporated a “Cotton Seed Oil Factory and Insurance Company” to be operated at New Orleans. To encourage the new activity a resolution of the New Orleans city council required the mayor to purchase cottonseed oil, presumably for city lighting.“7 Yet all these efforts were greeted with loss and failure.
January 2, 1853
The Origins of Industrial Oils
Before seed oils entered the market as food, the world used whale blubber to light lamps and fry donuts, but as its availability declined, new machines requiring lubrication were demanding more oil, preferably from cheaper plants than animal fats, than ever.
Before vegetable oils were considered a food, let alone one of the most consumed foods in the world, the whaling industry played a critical role in supplying oils on a global scale. As the New York Times puts it:
“From the 1700s through the mid-1800s, oil extracted from the blubber of whales and boiled in giant pots gave light to America and much of the Western world[...] Whaling was the fifth-largest industry in the United States; in 1853 alone, 8,000 whales were slaughtered for whale oil shipped to light lamps around the world, plus sundry other parts used in hoop skirts, perfume, lubricants and candles.” [*]
Whale oil wasn’t used to feed the world; rather it was used to light it up, along with many other industrial applications. Interestingly, American sailors often indulged in large batches of doughnuts fried in whale oil [*].
By the mid-1800s, whale oil had fallen out of favor due to both declining whale populations and the rise of cheaper, innovative sources of lamp fuel like camphine and kerosene [*].
During this era, a surge of innovation shifted industries towards cheaper sources of energy like coal, electricity, and petroleum that could power factories and steam engines as well as heat and light people’s homes.
Industrial methods of mass production began transforming every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wore to the foods we ate to the way we traveled. Instead of handmade goods, machines took center stage.
Machines, however, require lubrication, and oils and fats were commonly used as machine lubricants (among many other applications). Whale oil may have been out of the picture, but the demand for cheap sources of oil was only growing.
The mass production of consumer goods was also taking flight during this era, many of which, such as candles and soap, contained fats and oils.
Traditionally, soap and candles were made with lard and other animal fats, but producers were suddenly under pressure to embrace other sources of fat, or to stop making candles entirely, for at least three reasons:
Electricity and other sources of energy were set to largely replace candles.
Animal fats were a relatively expensive input.
The purity and cleanliness of animal fats were under scrutiny from the public and prominent journalist Upton Sinclair, known for exposing the appalling conditions of the meatpacking industry in the early 1900s [*].
As a result, producers sought innovative ways to replace animal fats and reduce the costs of producing various goods.
January 2, 1873
The Rise of the American Cottonseed Oil Industry
By the end of the 19th century the Dutch were receiving annually 200,000 barrels of American oil, while the domestic manufacture of oleomargarine, in spite of taxation restrictions, was furnishing annual consumption for 50,000 barrels.
The oleomargarine industry rose slightly earlier than the compound lard business, though furnishing less demand than the latter for cottonseed oil. Originating in France just before the Franco-Prussian War, it reached the status of patents and plants in the United States by 1873. The manufacture developed fairly rapidly in this country, with cottonseed oil becoming an important ingredient of the product, though not used in the first manufacture in France. When the dairy interests, not content with their state legislation, were securing the congressional legislation of 1886 to tax and regulate oleomargarine, they met opposition from the Cottonseed Crushers’ Association of the South, and one Southern congressman declared that the dairymen’s proposal would reduce the price of cottonseed from 20 cents a bushel to 10. American cottonseed oil, however, was also finding its way into the foreign manufacture of oleomargarine. Holland, for the making of butter substitutes, was soon taking about one-third of the best grades of cottonseed oil exported from the United States. By the end of the century the Dutch were receiving annually 200,000 barrels of American oil, while the domestic manufacture of oleomargarine, in spite of taxation restrictions, was furnishing annual consumption for 50,000 barrels.