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On September 17th 1798, Eli Whitney purchased the land around the museum. He sought its water rights. East Rock and Mill Rock form the first practical site north of New Haven to harness waterpower. There had been grain mills here for the first 150 years since New Haven’s founding. Whitney came here to build a factory.
Though just 33 years old Whitney had won fame –though no fortune– as the inventor of the cotton gin. The gin had had ignited a revolution in cotton production that swept past its inexperienced benefactor.
Whitney would begin again. On June 14th,1798, Whitney signed a bold contract with a government headed by still familiar names: Adams was President, Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. Whitney promised to produce 10,000 muskets in just two years. It was the largest contract with a private armory that our young nation had ever written.
It was a bold contract because no Armory on this continent had ever produced even 1500 muskets in a year. It was a bold contract because Whitney had no factory and no gunsmiths. It was a bold contract because Whitney had never before produced a musket.
Out of necessity, Whitney had a bold plan. New ways of producing things had taken root in Europe. Whitney would install new ways of producing things on this site. These mark the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution. Whitney’s daring, his willingness to test new ideas, his confidence in his ingenuity and his drive to succeed in the face of setbacks would become the hallmarks of the Inventive Yankee. Whitney invented himself. He established our vision that we can invent change.
This exhibition explores Whitney’s life and the dynamics of change.