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India - Cotton

The history of cotton is intimately connected with the competition between the American and Indian sotton, which was fought out under different conditions and in varying circumstances. Shortly after the war of 1812, and during the continuance of the civil war, the Indian cotton found secure lodgment in the British mills, and, although since driven from there, it obtained a foothold in some of the continental mills, the greater portion of the importations of several continental countries by around 1900 coming from India.

By 1860, Great Britain, the world’s most powerful country, had become the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and a significant part of that nation’s industry was cotton textiles. Nearly 4,000,000 of Britain’s total population of 21,000,000 were dependent on cotton textile manufacturing. Nearly forty percent of Britain’s exports were cotton textiles. Seventy-five percent of the cotton that supplied Britain’s cotton mills came from the American South, and the labor that produced that cotton came from slaves.

In the early history of the cotton-textile industry in India the mill owners were concerned chiefly with the production of yarn for export to China and for use in the hand looms of India. The name "calico" came from the fine hand-loom woven goods of Calicut on the Malabar Coast in Southwestern India. The increasing competition of Japan with India in the China market and also the growth of a textile industry in China itself, has caused India mill owners to pay more attention to the cultivation of their own market.

By the seventeenth century, Indian cotton dominated the markets of much of East Africa, the Middle East, and increasingly, Europe. Indian cloth was finely woven, beautifully dyed, and comfortable to wear. In England, even as the agents of the East India Company grew rich importing cotton, the English wool industry raised a hue and cry over the impact of cotton on the domestic economy. Finally, in 1721, Indian cotton imports were banned by parliament.

Ironically, soon after, cotton cultivation exploded in the American colonies and the “threat” of Indian cotton was muted by a major shift in cotton production. The cotton industry in the southern colonies of British North America came quickly to rely on slave labor. The climate of the southern colonies proved ideal for cotton production and, by the middle of the eighteenth century, British-controlled cotton production and manufacturing had emerged as a serious rival to the Indian industry.

In England alone, which still counted two-thirds of the world’s mechanical spindles in its factories, the livelihood of between one-fifth and one-fourth of the population was based on the industry; one-tenth of all British capital was invested in it, and close to one-half of all exports consisted of cotton yarn and cloth.

As a cotton-producing country India first assumed importance during the American Civil War. The production of Indian cotton doubled during that period, and enormously inflated prices were obtained for it, as the English spinners were obliged to depend on it, regardless of its cost. The estimate of the surplus wealth brought into India from cotton during the American Civil War is as high as $450,000,000.

The area devoted to the culture of cotton in India was less than that devoted to American cotton, this area amounting to 15,800,000 acres in 1896-97 as compared with 23,500,000 in the United States, and 14,100,000 acres in 1898-99 as compared with 22,500,000 acres in the United States; or, in other words, to less than two-thirds of the area devoted to the culture of cotton in the United States.

One of the chief difficulties in the way of the development of Indian cotton is the division of land among the small native landholders, and the unintelligent labor and lack of the spirit of enterprise of the latter. In this case the low wages of the persons employed do not result in a real economy, especially as they prevent the cultivation of cotton on a large scale as in the United States.

Since the early part of the 19th century, and with the single exception of the period of the civil war, the United States have been by far the greatest cotton producers of the globe, producing since 1831 considerably more than half of the cotton of the world. There are a great many countries, however, especially between the thirty-fifth and fortieth degrees of latitude, both north and south, which are adapted to the culture of cotton.

During the American Civil War (1861–65) cotton supplies to Britain’s textile mills dwindled, causing a boom in production elsewhere in the Empire. In the 1860s, cotton was a key import, supplying Britain’s busy textile mills. The majority of raw cotton supplies came from America. However, during the American Civil War (1861–65) raw cotton was no longer being grown and shipped. The British needed to find new sources for their mills, so turned to India to supply their needs.

In 1860, India was supplying 31% of British cotton imports, but the outbreak of war in America saw that supply escalate to 90% in 1862. Although it declined somewhat, India’s cotton growers were still supplying 67% of Britain’s cotton imports in the later years of the war. But India alone could not supply all the cotton Britain required. This pushed the price of cotton up sufficiently that it became worthwhile for countries such as Persia to begin exporting their cotton to Britain. Previously Persia’s cotton growers had only supplied local and regional demands as it had been too costly to export.

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Page last modified: 11-09-2017 16:27:44 ZULU