Blog 2: Cellulose

Samantha Williams

Much like sugar, cotton lead to and helped sustain to the buildup of slave trade for three centuries. Textiles made in Britain from the raw cotton picked in places like Southern United States were shipped to Africa to be traded for slaves, who then in turn harvested the cotton used by the British. Although places like India and Mexico had known cotton for at least 5000 years, it had been unknown to Europe until around 300 B.C. because the climate of Europe was unsuitable for the frost sensitive cotton plant. However, the constant damp climate made manufacturing cotton a whole lot easier. Because damp conditions meant that there was a less likelihood of the threads breaking down during manufacturing, factories in dryer, warmer climates suffered high production costs. Therefore, England became a powerhouse in the textiles and cotton industry. Mechanical innovation sprung from the demand for cheap cotton; eventually, everything was mechanized. The cotton gin also sprouted in this time period. It separated cotton fiber from the seed. Unfortunately, the English Midlands were used for farming and small trade centers. Working and living conditions were harsh and the hours were long with little pay. Children in the workplace were often beat to keep them awake on 12-14 hour shifts. These conditions brought about the protests and revolts centered around work hours, child labour, and safety and health regulations.


Like most fibers, cotton is about 90% cellulose, which is a polymer of glucose. Cellulose is also a structural polysaccharides, meaning it provides a means of support for the organism; these units are B-glucose. The storage polysaccharides are A glucose. In both of the polysaccharides, the glucose units join each other through carbon 1 on a glucose molecule and carbon 4 on the adjacent glucose molecule.

Many properties of cotton come from the structure of cellulose. The long cellulose chains packed together gave the rigidness to the fiber. The OH molecules that are not part of the long chains attract water molecules, thus making cotton so absorbent.

Cellulose and other storage polysaccharides are very abundant in the world, and it is a very replenishable resource.

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