Born in 1765 in Westborough, Mass., Eli Whitney began work as a blacksmith at a young age. Using a machine he built himself, he also was a nail maker and, at one time, was the country’s sole maker of ladies’ hatpins. After attending Yale College, he headed to South Carolina to work as a tutor. When he arrived, he learned his salary would be half what he was promised. Through a chance meeting, he ended up working at a plantation managed by Phineas Miller, who eventually became his partner in the cotton gin. Painting by Samuel F.B. Morse, 1822.