Cotton Statistics: “Cotton is King”

The most used phrase to describe the U.S. economic growth of the 19thcentury was “Cotton Is King.” Based on the statistics of that period, I would say that the phrase sums the period up pretty well.

Cotton production in the United States gained a large share of the world market between the years of 1840 and 1860. The United States accounted for an average of 65.5% throughout that time. The next up would be India with an average of 16.6% following with the rest of Asia, which brought out an average of 7.9%.

The consumption of cotton was led by Great Britain with a total of 459 million pounds in 1840 followed by an increase of 1084 million pounds in 1860. Second in consumption would be the United States with 146 million pounds in 1840 with an increase to 386 million pounds in 1860.

Cotton proved to be a valuable export in the United States during the early 19thcentury. Leading exported manufactured goods like beef, pork, and rice could not be touched by cotton exports. From 1816 to 1820, the value of cotton was $121.5 and would later increase to be $744.6 by 1860. During the same period of 1816 to 1820, the value of rice was only $13.1. That’s a big difference.

The production of cotton was a major reason for the growth of the American economy. It flourished with the mass consumption of cotton that led to great profit as an export. Cotton productivity remained central for the economy all throughout the 19thcentury.

As a side note…

BEHIND THE SUCCESS: There was a dependence on cotton that was matched by its slaves to harvest the cotton. Cotton and Slavery were intertwined and formed the foundation of the United States’ economic success.

To find out more about the role that cotton played in the 19thcentury, visit this site:


By Kristan Wilkins

Word Count: 314

7 Replies to “Cotton Statistics: “Cotton is King””

  1. I remember reading extensively about the role cotton played in the American system of slavery as well as how much power it gave the United States in my history class in high school, but this was the first time I examined raw data relating to cotton. You mentioned this in your blog post, but it does surprise me that there is such a large gap in cotton production between the United States and the next countries on the list. I have attached an article below relating to America in the context of cotton production. The things that stood out to me while reading it was a table explaining how cotton production grew from almost nothing to about 535.1 million pounds of cotton in just 59 years. Additionally, just as you were talking about the role of slaves, the article provides data showing that the slave population rose from 3,489 in 1800 to 436, 631 in 1860, just in Mississippi and Alabama.

  2. I wish the statistics had kept going another ten years as too see how the Civil War affected the cotton production. Upon some searching, today’s cotton production is actually dominated by Texas, which produces approx. 25% of our countries cotton. To me it’s interesting that the top 5 cotton producing states today, only one was a cotton produced in the Civil War era, granted it was also the only state. Mississippi was the largest cotton producing state from 1817 to 1860, and continues to be a large cotton producing state for the US, along with California, Arizona, and Missouri.

  3. Nice post! I really appreciated the side note that is included because it transitions into economical aspects of the Civil War. After I finished reading, I wondered why India had the second largest share in the cotton industry in the world. Though there is a huge gap between the U.S.’s production and India’s production, I was surprised to find that India had a substantial cotton industry in the 1800’s. I found a great article explaining economical effects of the American Civil War in other cotton producing countries, so I attached that below. The main point of the article highlights that cotton industries took off in smaller countries, like India, as a result of the U.S.’s inability to export cotton during the Civil War.

  4. I really liked your post, but if you would have gone deeper into the importance of cotton in the US and its impact to society, I think the topic would have been more meaningful for that reason below I have linked an article about why the cotton was important in America. The article below sums up the cause for the statistics in this journal post. Cotton has a deeper meaning in America aside from the numbers.

  5. Being from the south, I remember learning a lot about cash crops and particularly cotton in state history class. Your comparison of the price of cotton compared to rice, which were both crops that could be grown in the same section of the country, explains why cotton was such a popular crop in the American south.

  6. Being able to see the amount of cotton produced by slavery in america is astounding. It is incredible when you look at the numbers of the first table and seeing the exponential growth of cotton produced by the United States. You would expect the price of cotton to decrease because of the amount that is produced in mass/bulk as with other products that are mass produced. With all the money that is being generated, you would expect some sort of improvement to living conditions to those that were enslaved.

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