The Impact of the Cotton Gin Whitneys cotton engine, called the cotton gin for short, was a simple machine that used rotating combs to separate cotton fiber from its seeds. Using a cotton gin, a single worker could clean as much cotton as 50 laborers working manually, or by hand.
Across the South, planters began growing cotton. Within ten years, cotton was the Souths most important crop. By 1860, sales of cotton overseas earned more than all other U.S. exports combined.