No one knows exactly how old cotton is. Scientists searching caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. They also found that the cotton itself was much like that grown in America today. The invention of the cotton gin (short for engine) in the 1790s, made more cotton available to more people.
From its beginnings, Memphis has been an important location for markets, exchanges, travel and distribution. Before the Civil War, Memphis' rich delta soil contributed to its economic base - known as "King Cotton." Unfortunately, slavery was the key piece to this commerce and agri-business. The laborers who farmed the land, built the buildings and roads, and operated households were West Africans captured and traded as slaves. Cotton plantation owners were entirely dependent on slaves, but the cotton trade had tied Memphis to Northern industry so much so, that many did not want to secede from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War.
After the War, segregation and poverty still unchecked, Memphis nevertheless prospered, especially due to the river and "King Cotton." By the mid-20th Century, with a huge, rich delta hinterland, Memphis became one of the busiest cities in the South and the capital of the Mid-South, with the world's largest spot cotton market (over 40% of the nation's crop was traded here) and the world's largest hardwood market. In the 1950's it was even the world's largest mule market! New harvesting machinery now fulfills that duty in the cotton fields.