George Washington Carver (by January 1864 – January 5, 1943), was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor. The exact day and year of his birth are unknown; he is believed to have been born into slavery in Missouri in January 1864.
Carver's reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes, which also aided nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts. He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.
During the Reconstruction-era South, monoculture of cotton depleted the soil in many areas. In the early 20th century, the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop, and planters and farm workers suffered. Carver's work on peanuts was intended to provide an alternative crop.
He was recognized for his many achievements and talents. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a "Black Leonardo.
Carver was born into slavery in Diamond Grove, Newton County, near Crystal Place, now known as Diamond, Missouri, possibly in 1864 or 1865, though the exact date is not known. His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant who had purchased George's parents, Mary and Giles, from William P. McGinnis on October 9, 1855, for $700. Carver had 10 sisters and a brother, all of whom died prematurely.
When George was only a week old, George, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders from Arkansas. George's brother, James, was rushed to safety from the kidnappers. The kidnappers sold the slaves in Kentucky. Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them, but he located only the infant George. Moses negotiated with the raiders to gain the boy's return, and rewarded Bentley.
After slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own children. They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits, and "Aunt Susan" taught him the basics of reading and writing.
Black people were not allowed at the public school in Diamond Grove. Learning there was a school for black children 10 miles (16 km) south in Neosho, George decided to go there. When he reached the town, he found the school closed for the night. He slept in a nearby barn. By his own account, the next morning he met a kind woman, Mariah Watkins, from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself as "Carver's George," as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on his name was "George Carver". George liked this lady very much, and her words, "You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people", made a great impression on him.
At the age of thirteen, due to his desire to attend the academy there, he relocated to the home of another foster family in Fort Scott, Kansas. After witnessing a black man killed by a group of whites, Carver left the city. He attended a series of schools before earning his diploma at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.
Carver applied to several colleges before being accepted at Highland College in Highland, Kansas. When he arrived, however, they rejected him because of his race. In August 1886, Carver traveled by wagon with J. F. Beeler from Highland to Eden Township in Ness County, Kansas. He homesteaded a claim near Beeler, where he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection. He manually plowed 17 acres of the claim, planting rice, corn, Indian corn and garden produce, as well as various fruit trees, forest trees, and shrubbery. He also earned money by odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand.
In early 1888, Carver obtained a $300 loan at the Bank of Ness City for education. By June he left the area. In 1890, Carver started studying art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. His art teacher, Etta Budd, recognized Carver's talent for painting flowers and plants; she encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. When he began in 1891, he was the first black student, and later taught as the first black faculty member.
When he completed his B.S., professors Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel convinced Carver to continue at Iowa State for his master's degree. Carver did research at the Iowa Experiment Station under Pammel during the next two years. His work at the experiment station in plant pathology and mycology first gained him national recognition and respect as a botanist.
Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanuts, soybeans and cowpeas). These both restored nitrogen to the soil and the crops were good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops. To train farmers to successfully rotate and cultivate the new crops, Carver developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama that was similar to the one at Iowa State. To encourage better nutrition in the South, he widely distributed recipes using the alternative crops.
In addition, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them. They did original research as well as promoting applications and recipes which they collected from others. Carver distributed his information as agricultural bulletins.
Carver's work was known by officials in the national capital before he became a public figure. President Theodore Roosevelt publicly admired his work. Former professors of Carver's from Iowa State University were appointed to positions as Secretary of Agriculture: James Wilson, a former dean and professor of Carver's, served from 1897 to 1913. Henry Cantwell Wallace served from 1921 to 1924. He knew Carver personally as his son Henry A. Wallace and the researcher were friends. The younger Wallace served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, and as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vice president from 1941 to 1945.
In 1916 Carver was made a member of the Royal Society of Arts in England, one of only a handful of Americans at that time to receive this honor. Carver's promotion of peanuts gained him the most notability. In 1919, Carver wrote to a peanut company about the potential he saw for peanut milk. Both he and the peanut industry seemed unaware that in 1917 William Melhuish had secured patent #1,243,855 for a milk substitute made from peanuts and soybeans.
In 1921 peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver's presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers. Southern congressmen, reportedly shocked at Carver's arriving to testify, were said to have mocked him. As he talked about the importance of the peanut and its uses for American agriculture, the committee members repeatedly extended the time for his testimony. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 was passed including one on imported peanuts. Carver's testifying to Congress made him widely known as a public figure.
During the last two decades of his life, Carver seemed to enjoy his celebrity status. He was often to be found on the road promoting Tuskegee, peanuts, and racial harmony. Although he only published six agricultural bulletins after 1922, he published articles in peanut industry journals and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, "Professor Carver's Advice". Business leaders came to seek his help, and he often responded with free advice. Three American presidents - Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt - met with him, and the Crown Prince of Sweden studied with him for three weeks. From 1923 to 1933, Carver toured white Southern colleges for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
From 1933 to 1935, Carver worked to develop peanut oil massages to treat infantile paralysis (polio). Ultimately researchers found that the massages, not the peanut oil, provided the benefits of maintaining some mobility to paralyzed limbs.
From 1935 to 1937, Carver participated in the USDA Disease Survey. Carver had specialized in plant diseases and mycology for his master's degree.
Carver never married, but at age forty, he began a three-year courtship with Miss Sarah L. Hunt, an elementary school teacher and the sister-in-law of Tuskegee Institute Treasurer Warren Logan, which lasted until she took a teaching job in California.
When he was seventy, Carver established a friendship and research partnership with the scientist Austin W. Curtis, Jr, a much younger graduate of Cornell University who had some teaching experience. Carver bequeathed to Curtis his royalties from an authorized 1943 biography by Rackham Holt.
After Carver died in 1943, Curtis was fired from Tuskegee Institute. He left Alabama and resettled in Detroit. He manufactured and sold peanut-based personal care products.
Upon returning home one day, Carver took a bad fall down a flight of stairs; he was found unconscious by a maid who took him to a hospital. Carver died January 5, 1943, at the age of 78 from complications (anemia) resulting from this fall. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee University. Due to his frugality, Carver's life savings totaled $60,000, all of which he donated in his last years and at his death to the Carver Museum and to the George Washington Carver Foundation.
On his grave was written, He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.
On July 14, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated $30,000 for the George Washington Carver National Monument west-southwest of Diamond, Missouri—the area where Carver had spent time in his childhood. This was the first national monument dedicated to an African American and the first to honor someone other than a president. The 210-acre national monument complex includes a bust of Carver, a ¾-mile nature trail, a museum, the 1881 Moses Carver house, and the Carver cemetery. The national monument was not opened until July 1953.
In December 1947, a fire broke out in the Carver Museum, and much of the collection was damaged. Time Magazine reported that all but three of the 48 Carver paintings at the museum were destroyed. His best-known painting, displayed at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, depicts a yucca and cactus. This canvas survived and has undergone conservation. It is displayed together with several of his other paintings. Carver appeared on U.S. commemorative stamps in 1948 a second stamp of face value 32¢ was issued on 3 February 1998 as part of the Celebrate the Century stamp sheet series, and he was depicted on a commemorative half dollar coin from 1951 to 1954. Two ships, the Liberty ship SS George Washington Carver and the nuclear submarine USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) were named in his honor.
In 1977, Carver was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. In 1990, Carver was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In 1994, Iowa State University awarded Carver Doctor of Humane Letters. In 2000, Carver was a charter inductee in the USDA Hall of Heroes as the "Father of Chemurgy".
George Washington Carver reputedly discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds more for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes. Among the listed items that he suggested to southern farmers to help them economically were adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili sauce, fuel briquettes (a biofuel), ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise, meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder and wood stain. Three patents (one for cosmetics; patent number 1,522,176, and two for paints and stains; patent numbers 1,541,478 and 1,632,365) were issued to George Washington Carver in the years 1925 to 1927; however, they were not commercially successful. Aside from these patents and some recipes for food, Carver left no records of formulae or procedures for making his products. He did not keep a laboratory notebook.
Carver's research was intended to provide replacements for commercial products, which were generally beyond the budget of the small one-horse farmer. A misconception grew that his research on products for subsistence farmers were developed by others commercially to change Southern agriculture. Carver's work to provide them with resources for more independence from the cash economy foreshadowed the "appropriate technology" work of E.F. Schumacher.
George Washington Carver believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life. He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science. George Washington Carver became a Christian when he was ten years old. When he was still a young boy, he was not expected to live past his twenty-first birthday due to failing health. He lived well past the age of twenty-one, and his belief deepened as a result. Throughout his career, he always found friendship with other Christians. He relied on them especially when criticized by the scientific community and media regarding his research methodology.
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