World cotton history


  • 5000 B.C: Cotton fibre and cloth fragments found in Mexico date from this period
  • 3000 B.C: Cotton first cultivated as a fabric in the Indus River Valley (present-day Pakistan)
  • 2500 B.C: Chinese, Egyptian and South American civilisations begin weaving cotton fabrics
  • 2500 B.C: Early farming societies in South and North America domesticate and breed two local species of cotton: Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense
  • 300 B.C: Alexander the Great’s army brings cotton goods into Europe following conquest of the Persian Empire.  However, cotton cloth remains expensive and its use is limited

100 A.D to 1400s

  • 100 A.D: Arab traders bring two cotton fabrics, muslin and calico, to Italy and Spain
  • 800s: The Moors introduce cotton cultivation to Spain
  • 1492: Christopher Columbus finds the modern world’s most popular current cotton variety, Gossypium hirsutum, in the Bahamas


  • 1500s: Denim fabric is initially produced in Nimes, France.  Denim derives its name from ‘serge de Nimes’ (‘fabric of Nimes’)
  • 1500s: Sailors from Italian port city, Genoa, begin to wear denim trousers.  The word ‘jeans’ is derived from ‘Genes’, the French name for Genoa
  • 1530s: Naturally coloured cotton fabrics are among the first items collected from the Americas and more technically sophisticated than fabric woven by European looms at the time


  • 1600s: The East India Company brings rare cotton fabrics to Europe from India
  • 1621: Cotton first produced in parts of present-day USA
  • 1641: First cotton spinning factory opens in Manchester, UK, marking the true beginning of Europe’s cotton industry

1700s - 1800s

  • 1700s: The world cotton industry develops dramatically as Britain acquires colonies suitable for cotton growing whilst at the same time textile machinery improvements allow stronger yarn to be spun
  • 1700s: Cotton replaces flax and wool as Europeans most popular fabric
  • 1760s: Britain overtakes India as world’s largest cotton processor as a result of the Industrial Revolution
  • 1764-67: The spinning jenny – a multi-spindle spinning frame – (1764) and Arkwright's spinning frame (1767) are invented, enabling cheap mass production of cotton cloth
  • 1793: American Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin, separating cotton 50 times faster than traditional hand methods.  As a result of this and the advent of cheaper industrial dyes, Gossypium hirsutum, a white cotton species, replaces coloured varieties as the most popular cotton variety
  • Early 1800s: Southern US states become the world’s largest exporter of cotton to thriving British textile mills


  • 1920s: The USA accounts for more than half of the world’s cotton fibre
  • 1939–45: During WWII, naturally green and brown cottons are again produced commercially to counter the lack of dyes available
  • 1940s: Denim’s popularity becomes more widespread as its image shifts from durable clothing for blue-collar workers towards everyday apparel for the general public and youth in particular
  • 1950/51: World cotton demand and production levels each reach seven million tonnes
  • Early 1980s: Most native, coloured cotton varieties grown in Africa, Asia, Central and South America are replaced by all-white, commercial varieties
  • 1996: Transgenic cotton varieties are first introduced.  They will be widely adopted by the world cotton industry before the end of the 20th century


  • 2003: The first transgenic cotton varieties to have two independently acting Bt genes are successfully introduced in Australia and the USA
  • 2004/05: World cotton demand and production reach record highs of 23 and 26 million tonnes respectively
  • 2006/07: World cotton average yields reach a record 747 kilograms per hectare, due in large part to increased use of biotechnology
  • 2008: Structure of world in trade changing due to financial stress of Global Financial Crisis, volatility in the futures market and reduced demand
  • 2009: The Better Cotton Initiative is established as an independent organisation bringing together farmers, ginners, traders, spinners, mills, manufacturers, retailers, brands and grassroots organisations in a unique global community committed to developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity
  • 2011: World cotton prices peaked at their highest recorded levels ever. The Bremen CFI Index, one of the three most important price indices for cotton trade, stood at 246.15 cents/lb on 8th March
  • 2013/14: The global 20 year average (1993/14 to 2013/14) planted area reaches 33 million hectares of cotton
  • 2014: Cotton Australia signs an agreement with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) on behalf of Australia’s cotton industry to help secure access to future growth markets as Australian cotton growers contend with competition from synthetic fibres. The agreement transfers a BCI licence to Australian cotton produced under myBMP certification
  • 2014/15: China, the world's largest cotton importer and is also the biggest producer, produces an estimated 33.0 million bales


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