Continental Cotton Gin Good as New

A North Carolina restoration association finds and restores a Continental cotton gin

| December 1998

When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in the late 1700s, his invention re-created the American cotton industry. Two hundred years later, a vintage cotton gin in North Carolina re-creates the past. 

"The cotton gin was somewhat revolutionary for the industry," says Dr. Ray Medford, Gastonia, N.C. "It allowed farmers to grow a lot more cotton, and do a lot more with it. But when the boll weevil hit in the late forties, it really caused a great deal of problems for the southeast. In our county, it was the end of cotton."

Ray is one of a handful of members of the Gaston Agricultural, Mechanical, and Textile Restoration Association (GAMTRA) in Gaston County, N.C, who made it their goal to find and restore a cotton gin for their group. None of those involved in the project had any actual experience with a cotton gin. But what they lacked in experience, they made up for in sheer determination.

The group's hand-fed, single-stand gin (and its companion bale press) was made by the Continental Cotton Gin Company between 1900-05. Single-stand gins were developed for use on individual plantations. Their "big brother," the four-stand gin - actually, four gins running simultaneously - was a commercial operation drawing growers from a large area. Later gins were almost always four-stand, Ray says.

The number of saws (in a cotton gin, circular saw blades separate the fiber from the seed) in the Continental gin - 50 - also gives clues about the machine's past.

"Most single stand gins had 80 saws," Ray says, "which gives more capacity."