Forty-Saw Cotton Gin, Wooden Gearing

This 40-saw cotton gin and the wooden gearing came from a farm formerly owned by the Augustus C. Smith family in Monroe County, G. The gin shed was built around 1840 and operated until approximately 1900. The gin stand was probably built in the decade following the Civil War; it bears no manufacturer's name or other identification.
Augustus Card Smith, born on March 5, 1830, owned and managed the farm and gin until his death in 1907. His wife, Sara Jane Phinazee Smith, bore eleven children. James Milton Smith took over the farm when his father died. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, the farm had 180 acres, and the family owned one horse, four cows, and three mules. Smith marketed 11 bales of cotton that year. During the Civil War, A. C. Smith joined the Monroe County Cavalry and fought for the Confederacy. By 1880 the Smith farm had grown to 350 acres and raised 23 bales of cotton. A. C. Smith personified the yeoman farmer who owned his land and produced enough to provide for his family and to market the surplus. His life spanned the ante bellum years of increasing sectional tensions, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the establishment of segregation in the 1890s.
The Smith cotton ginning operation typified 19th-century ginning technology. The large open space on the lower level allowed mules to circle the bull gear, setting in motion the pinion gear that transferred power to the gin on the second floor. The precisely fitted wooden blocks joined by pegs and cleverly fitted supports demanded skilled workmanship.
Ginwrights both manufactured and serviced gins. The number of gins and the precise work needed to construct and maintain them necessitated a large number of skilled workmen. African Americans manufactured, maintained, and operated gins along with whites. A. C. Smith's ledgers show that he ginned for toll; that is, he took a percentage of the cotton in payment.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cotton gin
Date made
ca 1880
ca 1880
wooden gearing
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
iron (part material)
steel (part material)
Place Made
United States: Georgia, Monroe
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
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Work and Industry: Agriculture
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
A.C. Smith
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