former agricultural region of the SE United States where cotton was the main cash crop throughout the 19th and much of the 20th cent. Located on the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains and on the Piedmont upland, it extended through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, W Tennessee, E Arkansas, Louisiana, E Texas, and S Oklahoma, and also into small areas of SE Missouri, SW Kentucky, N Florida, and SE Virginia. Cotton is still grown in certain parts of the region but has ceased to be the dominant crop. The intensive production of corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, beans, and livestock has largely replaced cotton. Commercial timber production is also widespread on many former cotton plantations. Until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the Cotton Belt was confined to the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia; by the mid-1800s, it extended from S Virginia to E Texas. The belt's climatic conditions allowed cotton to thrive, but post–Civil War reforms, soil depletion, and the boll weevil (a type of beetle that eats cotton) combined to push cotton west. Today large quantities of cotton also are grown are irrigated land in the Southwest—W Texas, S New Mexico, S Arizona, and S California (see Black Belt
; Imperial Valley
). The dryness of those areas makes it easier to control insect pests. Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas are the leading producers of the old cotton belt; California ranks after Texas nationally.
See G. C. Fite, Cotton Fields No More: Southern Agriculture, 1865–1980 (1984); A. Burton, The Rise and Fall of King Cotton (1985).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. Physical Geography