Maker of Machines – Barbara Mitchell

Eli Whitney took the entrance test for Yale College
on April 30, 1789, the day George Washington
became the f irst president of the United States of
America. He was admitted to the school that very
afternoon. The new Yale freshman was twenty-three
years old. He was already behind. Most students
entered college at four teen or f ifteen.

It had taken Eli long winters of teaching in one-
room schoolhouses to ear n the money for his educa-
tion. Along with what was left of his small teacher’s

salary came a promise from his father. Mr. Whitney
would send money whenever he was able. But many
times, no money arrived. So Eli took little jobs
around town. He worked as a carpenter’s helper. He
colored maps for students in his geography class for
one dollar per set.
One of Eli’s favorite spots was the college’s “table
of curiosities.” Yale professors used the table’s tools
for teaching science.


A cour t attendant stood listening. His hear t went
out to the Americans. Fighting a war without guns
would be most difficult. French gunsmiths made
muskets by the thousands, with a new model every
few years. The Royal Arsenal at Charleville was
overflowing with old muskets. But would the king of
France give muskets to colonists who were rebelling
against another king? Not likely. A sorry situation it
was for those brave Americans with nar y a musket
maker to be had.
Back in the American colony of Massachusetts,
ten-year-old Eli Whitney was thinking too. He was
also feeding his father’s cows. But to Eli, the best
thing about forking food and toting buckets of water
to sixty cattle was that it gave him plenty of time to
ponder. Eli loved to ponder, turning ideas over and
over in his mind.
Eli was not much for farmwork. He would far

rather be in the farm’s pine-smelling workshop, think-
ing up something to make. And if he wasn’t ham-
mering and chiseling some creation with his father’s

tools, why then he was pulling something apar t to see
what made it work. This mor ning Eli had his mind
set on disassembling a cur ious little machine called a
pocket watch. There was a brand-new one in Father’s
dresser drawer.


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