George Washington Carver
Scientist, farmer, professor, inventor, civil-rights pioneer, and more George Washington Carver was all of these things despite living in a society that created many obstacles for such achievements. The distinguished career of George Washington Carver is something for which all Americans can be proud.
Nineteenth-century birth records are not always complete, so Carver's exact date of birth remains unknown. in depth background checks and genealogical research has been conducted and it is believed that he was born in 1864 or 1865 on Moses and Susan Carver's plantation outside of Diamond, Missouri. His father died before his birth and records indicate that raiders abducted him and his mother from the plantation not long after his birth. Carver was rescued and returned the plantation but his mother was never found.
In the nineteenth century there were not many educational opportunities for African Americans, but Susan Carver took a special liking to Carver and taught him how to read and write.As an indoor servant due to some health issues,Carver also tended the garden where he discovered is passion for plants and horticulture. This interest would lay the groundwork for his later, groundbreaking research.
At age eleven,Carver was given the chance to study at a school for African-Americans in Neosho, Missouri, where he lived with a childless African-American couple. By the time the late 1880s rolled around,Carver was living in Ames, Iowa, where he was encouraged to enroll in what would become Iowa State University. As the first African-American student at the university, he pursued his agricultural and horticultural interests, graduating in 1894 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1896 with his master’s. During his graduate schooling he served on the faculty of Iowa State, the first African American to do so.
Carver was passionate about educating other African Americans, so it was an easy decision when Booker T. Washington invited him to come and teach at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, one of the most important centers of African-American education in the country. While teaching at Tuskegee, Carver’s work thrived and he became known for his studies in fungus, plant biology, and in applying his discoveries to help farmers in the southern United States.
Moreover, Carver is best known for his work with the peanut plant as he discovered over 325 uses for the legume. Putting his ingenuity to work, George was able to make peanuts into shampoo, dyes, soap, cheese, instant coffee, peanut butter, colored paper and many other products. He also developed nearly 100 uses of the sweet potato including vinegar and even ink, and worked with many other crops such as okra and pecans. Especially valuable was Carver's work to improve the soil, which he took to the southern United States in an innovative program of extension education. With what were basically travelling laboratories on wagons, he showed poor farmers how to cheaply improve soil and crop yields, thereby contributing to the growth of the economy in the South. Carver even became popular as a physician of sorts in the 1930s when polio-stricken people would travel to the Tuskegee Institute in order to find relief from their symptoms through a peanut oil massage.
Though he made many discoveries, Carver was always quick to credit his abilities to God. He was a devout Christian who believed that God gave him the gift of horticulture. This same faith also influenced his outlook on race relations. Carver believed the best way for African Americans to advance themselves was through education, and that is why he remained at Tuskegee for the rest of his life. But he also believed that educating other African Americans was not just good for them but also for the larger community. He had a very strong vision of how education could benefit the surrounding society. He also traveled in the 1920s and 1930s to promote equality between the races.
In his later years, Carver was honored with many awards and other special recognitions. The Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture was awarded to him in 1939. In 1941, the dedication of the George Washington Carver Museum was held at the Tuskegee Institute, which is today operated by the National Parks Service.
George Washington Carver never married nor did he have any children. He died on January 5, 1943 and is buried at the Tuskegee Institute. Today, the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri is an enduring testimony to this amazing man’s life and work.
• George Washington Carver National Monument – official homepage of the US national monument dedicated to George Washington Carver
• How the Farmer Can Save His Sweet Potatoes – article on growing and preserving sweet potatoes that George Washington Carver actually wrote
• Legacy of George Washington Carver – Tuskegee Institute site devoted to Carver’s life and work
• The Life of George Washington Carver – George Washington Carver Biography from Auburn’s Encyclopedia of Alabama
• Smithsonian Portrait of George Washington Carver – portrait and brief bio of George Washington Carver from the Smithsonian Institute