Cotton Exchange, Memphis, Tennessee

Day 215

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     When I think of cotton fields, I think of “Gone With The Wind” and darkies in the field.

     Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. (“gin” stands for engine and not a still.) That made separating the seeds from the cotton easier, the cotton still had to be picked by hand.

     Although Samuel S. Rembert and Jedediah Prescott received the first patent for a cotton harvester in 1850, it was not until 1936 that the first commercial harvester was produced by John and Mack Rust. 

     Delta Airlines, named for the Delta of the Mississippi where it was founded, began as the world’s first crop dusting organization in 1924. 

     After the Civil War, Cotton was traded as a commodity. Because of its location on the Mississippi River, Memphis became a center point of cotton sales in the South. The Memphis Cotton Exchange was incorporated on April 20, 1874 to regulate cotton marketing in the city. The exchange had exclusive membership, limited to men only. 

     Cotton is graded into qualities based on the content of seeds and other stuff in the cotton. This is called classing. For example, a higher quality cotton would be used for bed sheets, with a lower quality for denim jeans. This is where the phrase “fair to middling” comes from. It had to be done in natural sunlight, therefore it was done on the top floor of the Exchange under north facing skylights. It could not be done on cloudy days.  

     The centerpiece of the exchange was a large blackboard placed high above the trading floor. Only members were allowed on the trading floor, and you had to be invited to be a member. 

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    Everything changed with the advent of the computer, which made it possible to get prices and trade electronically. The exchange closed in 1974. 

     Tidbit of information: The Confederate currency was backed by cotton rather than gold. You can see the image of cotton on every note issued by the Southern States. 

     Do you recognize this symbol? day-215-cotton-exchange-tn-8461_fotor

     In the 1950’s and 60’s synthetic fibers were becoming more popular because of their ease of use and being wrinkle free. As a result, textile mills were buying less cotton. Cotton Inc. was formed in 1970 to promote the use of cotton and therefore their share of the market. In 1973 they introduced the “seal of cotton” so the consumer could easily identify cotton products. Evidently it worked. (Sort of “look for the union label”). You sang that in your head, didn’t you?

 

 

 

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