The giant boll weevil you see at the door might make you feel like you’re in a science fiction movie, but the pest is part of the South Carolina Cotton Museum. The facility, established in 1993 in Bishopville, is home to the 4-foot-tall beetle replica and a whole lot more.
Each year, nearly 9,000 visitors from across the United States and the world come to the museum to learn about the strong tradition of the cotton industry in South Carolina. Janson Cox, executive director of the museum, says visitors especially enjoy learning how cotton is grown, harvested and ginned. And while they might not enjoy the hard work of picking cotton, visiting students always remember that activity, which Cox and his staff of 15 volunteers include in their educational tours.
“We do a time sequence, which includes picking seeds out of cotton, as a way to introduce the significance of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin,” he says. “It doesn’t take long for the students to get tired and for their fingers to start to hurt. They quickly realize how labor intensive the process was and how valuable the machinery is today.”
Visitors get to see additional machinery up close, including a Plantation Spinner, one of only seven in the United States, a mule-drawn cultivator, a Cessna Ag-Wagon crop duster, and even modern spinners and looms.
“Our goal is to educate our visitors about the cotton industry and the positive impact it has had on our country’s economy and culture,” says Cox. “We want to raise awareness of the crop, how it’s produced and especially how it’s used. So many people don’t realize that cotton is a part of many different foods and other products.”
Money is one of those products. In fact, U.S. paper currency is 75 percent cotton lint and 25 percent linen. A 480-pound bale of cotton, for instance, can be made into 313,600 $100 bills.
Potato chips, mayonnaise, salad dressing, pasta sauces and some baked goods are other products most consumers don’t associate with cotton, but many actually contain cottonseed oil.
To learn more about the cotton plant and its past, present and future significance to agriculture in South Carolina, Cox invites adults and children to visit the museum. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students. For educational programs, visit the website at www.sccotton.org or call the museum at (803) 484-4497.