During the last 25 yr, upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) and pima cotton (G. barbadense L.) production in the USA has varied from 4 to 6.9 million ha. Major concerns for breeders have been diseases, fiber quality, insects, and yield. These were addressed by both private and public breeders although most of the concerns, other than yield, were researched by public breeders. There has been a steady decline in public breeding programs and an increase in private breeding programs. One half of the most influential breeding programs have been public programs, but nearly one half of these influential public programs having been terminated or drastically reduced. This review summarizes accomplishments of public breeding programs and their substantial impact on the cotton industry. Continued support of public breeding programs is needed to furnish genetic diversity for continued cotton improvement, for the training of students, and to conduct research in areas not addressed by private breeders.