Key message: Genetic improvements for many fiber traits are obtained by mutagenesis of elite cottons, mitigating genetic uniformity in this inbred polyploid by contributing novel alleles important to ongoing crop improvement. The elite gene pool of cotton (Gossypium spp.) has less diversity than those of most other major crops, making identification of novel alleles important to ongoing crop improvement. A total of 3,164 M5 lines resulting from ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) mutagenesis of two G. hirsutum breeding lines, TAM 94L-25 and Acala 1517-99, were characterized for basic components of fiber quality and selected yield components. Across all measured traits, the ranges of phenotypic values among the mutant lines were consistently larger than could be explained by chance (5.27-10.1 for TAM 94 L-25 and 5.29-7.94 standard deviations for Acala 1517-99-derived lines). Multi-year replicated studies confirmed a genetic basis for these differences, showing significant correlations between lines across years and environments. A subset of 157 lines selected for superior fiber qualities, including fiber elongation (22 lines), length (22), lint percent (17), fineness (23), Rd value (21), strength (19), uniformity (21) and multiple attributes in a selection index (26) were compared to 55 control lines in replicated trials in both Texas and Georgia. For all traits, mutant lines showing substantial and statistically significant improvements over control lines were found, in most cases from each of the two genetic backgrounds. This indicates that genetic improvements for a wide range of fiber traits may be obtained from mutagenesis of elite cottons. Indeed, lines selected for one fiber trait sometimes conferred additional attributes, suggesting pleiotropic effects of some mutations and offering multiple benefits for the incorporation of some alleles into mainstream breeding programs.