It is difficult to put a date on how old cotton really is. Cotton balls and fiber have been found in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico which date back 7,000 years. Most research puts the discovery of cotton between 3,000 – 5,000 BC. It was found as early as 2,500 BC in the Egyptian tombs. Around the same time, Pre-Incan cotton grave cloths were found in Huaca Prieta, Peru, and were mentioned in Hindu hymns in 1500 BC.
Alexander the Great introduced the fiber to the Greeks and Arabs. Around 800 AD Arab merchants introduced cotton to European countries. Cotton cloth started to become highly sought-after in Europe during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment period. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, cotton was found growing in the Bahamas. By 1500, cotton was known throughout the world and became a huge commodity.
Cotton seeds are believed to have been planted in Florida in 1556 and in Virginia in 1607. This began a dark part of the US history when slaves were bought and sold to support the cotton industry. The phrase “King Cotton” was coined because of the belief Southern states could successfully succeed from the union and be economically independent. Things didn’t turn out as they planned.
With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 by Eli Whitney there was an explosion in the fiber industry. The cotton gin could do the work 10 times faster than by hand. By 1801 the annual production of cotton was 22 million kilograms. By 1840 US produced 60% of the cotton worldwide. The U.S. cotton crop rose from $150,000 to more than $8 million within 10 years.
By the 18th century, the middle class had become more concerned with cleanliness and fashion. The need for fabric that could hold more color and would wash easily became a demand in the textile world. With the volume of cotton fiber being traded by the East India Company starting in around 1664, cotton became a staple in the garment industry in across the globe.
Today the main producer of cotton fiber is now China, who produce 7.5 million tons of fiber yearly.
It is the "Fabric of our lives."