Continental Cotton Gin Good as New

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

| December 1998

  • The gin and engine building at the Gaston Agricultural, Mechanical and Textile Restoration Association
    The gin and engine building at the Gaston Agricultural, Mechanical and Textile Restoration Association
  • A blizzard of cotton
    A blizzard of cotton. A description of a cotton gin's operation from an 1890 article: "The cotton lint goes from the field directly to the gin – a cylinder with a series of circular saws which revolve between riffs, which catch and pull off the lint and seeds. The seeds fall onto the floor. The lint passes back through the gin by the power of a bristle-brush that strips it from the saw-teeth. The brush creates a draught that carries the lint backward like a snowstorm."
    Photo courtesy GAMTRA
  • Removing a bale from the press
    Removing a bale from the press. At about 315 pounds each, bales produced by the Continental gin are somewhat smaller than those from a larger gin.
    Photo courtesy GAMTRA
  • Loading the gin at show's end.
    Loading the gin at show's end.
    Photo courtesy GAMTRA
  • The 1920 Fairbanks-Morse 20 hp engine that powers the gin.
    The 1920 Fairbanks-Morse 20 hp engine that powers the gin.
  • Cotton Market Day in a southern town, circa 1890.
    Cotton Market Day in a southern town, circa 1890.

  • The gin and engine building at the Gaston Agricultural, Mechanical and Textile Restoration Association
  • A blizzard of cotton
  • Removing a bale from the press
  • Loading the gin at show's end.
  • The 1920 Fairbanks-Morse 20 hp engine that powers the gin.
  • Cotton Market Day in a southern town, circa 1890.

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."