Profiles in Opportunity – Eli Whitney


October 4 – Eli Whitney

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
—Lincoln

Eli Whitney grew up on a small farm in Massachusetts before the American Revolution. Knowing that the acreage was not large enough to split between him and his brothers, he left home to seek his fortune. Although he had little formal education, Eli managed to learn enough to be able to enter and graduate from Yale. Later, after taking a tutoring job in Georgia, he used his farm background and mechanical aptitude to help a friend solve the problem of separating seeds, hulls, and foreign material from cotton. The invention helped the South rise from poverty to prosperity, but Eli’s invention was quickly copied and he saw little profit.

Eli Whitney had learned that a product’s success rests on the manufacturer’s ability to make it better, faster, and cheaper than everyone else. He also realized that a product must be mass-produced if the manufacturer is to realize a profit on his investment. Knowing that the fledgling U.S. government needed a domestic supply of rifles, Whitney devised a plan to make the weapons with interchangeable parts. Standardization allowed production of the various components to be spread among several workers, rather than a single gunsmith, greatly reducing manufacturing time and costs. No bank would risk the capital, but the government was eager to back the rifle project. Whitney’s idea became the pattern for American manufacturing that gave U.S. businesses a competitive edge over their entrenched European counterparts.

Consider This: Learn and use the knowledge you have acquired to devise a better plan the next time around.

Eli Whitney
Eli Whitney

A Daily Dose of the American Dream.

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