Eli Whitney: A Top Ten Inventor?

Eli Whitney: A Top Ten Inventor?
Anna Harrison: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two or three class periods


It is possible that no name is more clearly associated with the Industrial Revolution in the United States than that of Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin.  Ten years older than Anna Harrison, they nevertheless shared a lifetime characterized by the emergence of the United States from an almost totally agricultural society to one which, during the 19th century, was becoming increasing industrial.


There are several purposes for this lesson.  First, it allows students to conduct research and present their findings in a persuasive manner.    If the teacher chooses, the students may also work in groups, thereby enhancing the development of cooperative work skills.  In the presentation of their findings, the students will practice persuasive skills in writing and/or oral presentation.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials; First Ladies Timeline link: KW = Inventions


Explain to the class that, for the next few class sessions, they will be researching the life and work of an important American inventor, Eli Whitney.  Their job is to make the case for his inclusion in the Top Ten List of American Inventors.
1.  Divide the students into 4 groups, considering how well students will work together. 

2.  Assign, or allow groups to choose, one of the following sections of the case: 

  • Biography of Eli Whitney 
  • Cotton Gin (clear explanation of exactly how it worked) 
  • Impact of the cotton gin on the South
  • Importance of the invention to the economy of the United States

3.  Have each group create a way to visualize their research findings.

4.  Have each group present their portion of the case.

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may choose to have each student develop his/her own nomination of Whitney.  A letter of nomination may be substituted for the report.

Sources & Resources:


              Eli Whitney, the Inventor             

              Inventors Hall of Fame 

              Inventor of the Week Archive


This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.