National Geographic : 1941 Feb
The National Geographic Magazine And then you wonder how unwieldy bales of such astronomically numerous and minute raw material can be classified. The law of averages comes to the rescue. In a single sample of cotton of 1% 2 -inch staple length were found fibers that range from less than g of an inch up to 18 inches. But the average was determined accurately by the sensitive feel and the micrometer eye of the stapler-the tea taster of cotton whose buy ing judgment may make or break a mill. By "grade" cotton men usually mean color, absence of foreign matter, and ginning prepa ration. By law there are 32 grades and colors of American upland cotton, with such designa tions as "strict middling," "yellow stained," and "extra white." Official United States standards recognize 19 staple lengths, from below 3 of an inch up to 11%2inches. Obviously there can be more combinations of these lengths and grades than there are pos sible bridge hands. No two bales of cotton ever are alike. Theoretically they could be, but only an Einstein could calculate when. Naturally there are disputes between seller and buyer. Practically all cotton entering New England and New York is bought sub ject to "New England terms," a code drafted about 30 years ago and only slightly modi fied since. The historic National Association of Cotton Manufacturers, in Boston, helped formulate the "terms," and also initiated the General Arbitration Council for the textile industry. Making Cotton "Stretch" Color Plate X shows stages in the transfor mation of these filament fibers from a matted mass (labeled "lap roll") to gossamer card web (which the girl is holding), and thence through many operations to make yarn for sheerest voile or unwieldy tarpaulin. In very nontechnical language, the purpose of every stage in spinning and in the prepa rations therefor is to get these delicate fibers to lie parallel, to adhere, and to twist them to make strong thread. Each massive and costly machine in a spin ning mill-breaker-picker, carder, slubber, jack frame, aptly named drawing machine, and many more-draws out and adds to the original strand of fibers, from thumb-thick drawing sliver to ultimate warp thread which may be of cobweb fineness. "From first picker to the end of spinning, can you tell me how much the original embryo yarn is drawn out?" I asked the dean of a tex tile school. "No one ever asked that one before," he said. "But we can figure it out in the time I was going to take for 18 holes of golf. "Keep two things in mind, however. The fibers do not stretch appreciably. Drawing out really is a process of sliding the parallel fibers along so that they cling. Always more fibers are being added with each operation." With that admonition we started the rounds of his miniature demonstration mill as he wrote down "1 inch to 4 on the first picker, 1 up to100onthecard,1to2onthesliverlap,1to 8 on the comber." About that time he re sorted to a slide rule. And it all multiplied up to the result that, at the end of spinning, one inch of cotton fibers from the first picker may be elongated and imbedded somewhere in 11,612,160,000 inches, which is to say 183,272 miles, of the warp bobbin thread shown in Plate X. When a GEOGRAPHIC photographer and I started upon a many weeks' survey of cotton, a veteran Georgia editor handed us a crumpled clipping quoting a famed Atlanta journalist, the late Henry W. Grady. "Read that," he counseled. "It's the best 300 words ever written about cotton." We did so, and admired the music of Mr. Grady's eloquent words. Now, at the end of our long, long cotton trek, we have learned that there is more fact than oratory in this tribute of a son of a unique civilization and a gracious American way of life that cotton built. He wrote, in part: "What a royal plant it is! The world waits in attendance upon its growth. The showers that fall whispering on its leaves are heard around the earth. The sun that shines upon it is tempered by the prayers of all the people. The frosts that chill it and the dew that de scends from the stars are noted, the trespass of a little worm upon its green leaf means more to England and English homes than the ad vance of the Russian army on her frontier. "Its fiber is current in every bank in all the world. Its oil adds luxury to lordly banquets in noble halls and brings comfort to lowly homes in every clime. Its flour gives to man a food richer in health-producing value than any the earth has ever known and a cura tive agent long sought and found in nothing else. Its meal is feed for every beast that bows to do man's labor from Norway's frozen peaks to Africa's parched plains. "It is the heritage that God gave this peo ple when He arched the skies, established our mountains, girded us about with oceans, tem pered the sunshine and measured the rain. Ours and our children's forever and forever and no princelier talent ever came from His omnipotent hand to mortal stewardship."