King Cotton Sr. and Jr.

As a way of bidding adieu to the State Fair, which closes this weekend, I bring you two items from fair-like events of the past, both taking the phrase “Cotton is King” literally.

First, from the Oct. 13, 1904 issue of the Yazoo Sentinel, Mississippi’s exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

“King Cotton,” Mississippi’s Special Feature at the World’s Fair. Mississippi’s King Cotton is a colossal statue, thirty-seven feet high, constructed entirely of the fleecy staple. It is located in the center of the agricultural building, and attracts more attention than any other exhibit shown therein. The king is of the sixteenth century type, and wears a crown upon his head and holds a scepter in his hand. He is seated upon an immense throne, constructed out of thirty bales of the best Mississippi cotton. Before him stand five negro cotton pickers, wrought in wax, and they are perfect types of the old negro field hands. Around the base of the throne is shown cotton, cotton seed, and all its varied products, aggrogating, as a scroll held by one of the negroes says, $85,000,000 last year. All visitors to the fair admire the statue of King Cotton, which has taken the grand prize.

You can see real images of the 1904 King, next to a giant corn cob and the same frontal view that this slightly scary drawing came from. The desire to build large men out of cotton persisted at least into the 1930s; here’s an image that showed up in the Jackson Daily News, May 11, 1935:

Monarch of vast realm, this Colossus of Cotton gazed out on downtown Memphis as thousands of his loyal subjects paid homage during the festivities of the Cotton Carnival and National Cotton Show in the Tennessee city. Mounted on a throne of cotton bales, the huge figure was built by high school students, who spent months on the job.

I wonder when the last King Cotton was?

Categories: Historic Preservation

6 replies

  1. Enjoyed this post and seeing these illustrations. From the looks of all the cotton waiting in the fields to be ginned in Coahoma County, Cotton is still King over there today. YAY!


  2. This is freakier than the Burger King guy! It is a perfect epitomization of the “King Cotton” metaphor – and I imagine a substantial visual reinforcement of all the accompanying social conventions and oppression. Carnival has nothing on these monstrosities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: