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A History of the Cotton Industry (Hardback)

A Story in Three Continents

P&S History > Archaeology > Textiles & Weaving Transport World History

By Anthony Burton
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781399057318
Published: 2nd November 2023

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This book is about technology and how it has changed the lives of people on three continents over the last three hundred years. The development of the cotton industry was the starting point for one of the great turning points in history – the industrial revolution. It began with the importation of cloth into Britain from India and that created a new fashion. As the demand for cotton cloth grew, British inventors began to find ways of making the same cloth using powered machinery and built the first cotton mills. The old way of life of the textile workers was transformed, as work moved from home to factory and thousands of small children were brought in to tend the new machines. If conditions in the cotton towns were bad, they were far worse in America where, thanks to the work of slaves, the country took over the supply of raw material from India. During the American Civil War, Britain turned again to India for its supplies. Today, positions have changed dramatically. India again has a thriving industry, while in Britain only a fraction of the old mills are still at work. The author looks in detail at the technology that produced the changes, but the emphasis is very much on the human stories of the industrialists and their workers, the planters and their slaves in Britain, India and America.

This book is an absolute fascinating exploration of the history of the cotton industry. It includes archival information and is written in an accessible manner meaning it'll be an interesting read for anyone interested in history, technology, human stories, and/or sewing and textiles.

NetGalley, Naomi Clarke

"Undoubtedly one of Anthony Burton’s best books, he offers here a readable story of how this crop became the basis of a globalised industry...This is a fascinating story and well told."

The Society of Model and Experimental Engineers Journal - April 2024

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Detailing all aspects of the cotton industry, this is a well written and easy to read history of Cotton. From those who were indentured to work the cotton plantations and encompassing ship owners, factory owners and their workers- this makes for sometimes heartbreaking reading and Burton faithfully reports with warts and all. The terrible treatment of slaves, the wickedness of some plantation owners and the fortunes made by factory owners, merchants and ship owners all make for fascinating reading. An excellent book highly recommended.

NetGalley, Carol Elizabeth Keogh

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A History of the Cotton Industry is a well written and layman accessible monograph on the cotton industry from ancient times. Originally published in 1984 to coincide with the documentary TV production of "The Rise and Fall of King Cotton".

This is a very well researched and annotated volume. The author provides an unvarnished history and overview of the culture surrounding the agriculture and manufacture of cotton. It makes for often brutal reading; from the closely allied trade in human slaves, the politics and corruption of great power and profit (at the cost of human life), and the eventual decline and collapse of the social structures which grew and flourished over centuries.

Readers should be aware that in this second edition, the author has made a conscious decision -not- to remove the 6 historical quotes in the text which use the "n-word". It's shocking and distressing to see it printed in black and white each time it appears, but it's very important in context and the author made the right (albeit presumably difficult) decision to leave the quotes intact. There's also a fair bit of historical material which reflects a breathtaking amount of imperialist/sexist/racist/misogynist world view, which again, is appropriate and important in context to understand the unquestioned historical prevalence.

The language is layman accessible. It's well annotated throughout and the author/publisher have included numerous archival photos and facsimiles of historical documents which add a lot of depth and interest to the read.

Five stars. Well written and very thought provoking reading.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book explores how the cotton industry, originating in India, sparked the industrial revolution. It chronicles the shift from handcrafting to mechanized factory production in Britain. This transition changed workers' lives as jobs moved from homes to mills, often employing children. The book also reveals harsh conditions on American cotton plantations reliant on slave labor. Contrasting the once-booming British mills to India's now-thriving industry, it focuses on the human stories of industrialists, laborers, and slaves on all sides of the cotton trade.

This is an engrossing, easy-to-read, and often heart-wrenching narrative. The information is enlightening for anyone with an interest in the Industrial Revolution.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ever look at a piece of clothing and think, how did this go from a plant to my closet?

It's a major process and probably most have no idea how it all works. Well, there's a book about that.

The book covers three hundred years and three continents as well as the technology, the labor forces, and the business of cotton industry. How this plant moved people from their home seamstress businesses into factories with machines that made clothing far faster.

The industry also pushed cities to change their structures and the way people traded/purchased goods, but there are many human stories within the pages of this book. Ones that are important to read.

A lot of research went into this book and I learned that there's far more to my cotton shirt than I realized.

NetGalley, Patricia W. Fischer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a re-issue of one of the best comprehensive books on the cotton industry. Cotton weaving was one of Britain's main industries at the start of the industrial revolution and this book looks at our part in that industry from a global perspective. What happened here in the UK was hugely impacted by what happened right across the globe. This book is well written, going into detail, but never getting bogged down and dragging. It is easily accessible, but also historically detailed. It would be of interest all levels of knowledge.

NetGalley, Hannah Hill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Great book for study of the Cotton Industry, spanning from the importation from India to England, then to the United States. In depth information of the industrialization of the first Cotton Mills in Britain, the workers and child labor use to meet demand. The living conditions among worker were deplorable. The United States took the lead in growing cotton and used slave trade to excel in the trade. Documentation of first hand accounts of life of the industrialist, mill workers, plantation owners and slaves provides great insight of the technology trade as it evolved.

NetGalley, Sandra Rogaskie
 Anthony Burton

About Anthony Burton

Anthony Burton has been writing about the history of transport and technology for fifty years. His books include Remains of a Revolution, The Railway Builders, The Locomotive Pioneers and biographies of Thomas Telford, George and Robert Stephenson and a biography of Marc and Isambard Brunel (due to be published in 2022). He has worked extensively in TV and most recently as historical adviser to the Discovery Channel series Industrial Revelations, More Industrial Revelations and On the Rails.

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