rare to find a man of the caliber of George Washington Carver, a
man who would decline an invitation to work for a salary of more
$100,000 a year (almost a million today) to continue his research
behalf of his countrymen.
Agricultural chemist, Carver discovered three hundred uses for
and hundreds more uses for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes.
Among the listed items that he suggested to southern farmers to
help them economically were his recipes and improvements
to/for: adhesives, axle grease, bleach, buttermilk, chili
sauce, fuel briquettes, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise,
meat tenderizer, metal polish, paper, plastic, pavement, shaving
cream, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder and wood
stain. Only three patents were every issued to Carver.
George Washington Carver was born in 1864 near Diamond Grove,
Missouri, on the farm of Moses Carver. He was born into
difficult and changing times near the end of the Civil War.
The infant George and his mother kidnapped by Confederate
night-raiders and possibly sent away to Arkansas. Moses
Carver found and reclaimed George after the war but his mother had
disappeared forever. The identity of Carver's father remains
unknown, although he believed his father was a slave from a
neighboring farm. Moses and Susan Carver reared George and
his brother as their own children. It was on the Moses' farm
where George first fell in love with nature, where he earned the
nickname 'The Plant Doctor' and collected in earnest all manner of
rocks and plants.
He began his formal education at the age of twelve, which required
to leave the home of his adopted parents. Schools were
segregated by race at that time with no school available for black
students near Carver's home. He moved to Newton County in
southwest Missouri, where he worked as a farm hand and studied in
a one-room schoolhouse. He went on to attend Minneapolis High
School in Kansas. College entrance was a struggle, again
because of racial barriers. At the age of thirty, Carver
gained acceptance to Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he
was the first black student. Carver had to study piano and
art and the college did not offer science classes. Intent on
a science career, he later transferred to Iowa Agricultural
College (now Iowa State
University) in 1891, where he gained a Bachelor of Science degree
1894 and a Master of Science degree in bacterial botany and
in 1897. Carver became a member of the faculty of the Iowa
State College of Agriculture and Mechanics (the first black
faculty member for Iowa College), teaching classes about soil
conservation and chemurgy.
In 1897, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Normal and
Industrial Institute for Negroes, convinced Carver to come south
serve as the school's Director of Agriculture. Carver
remained on the
faculty until his death in 1943. (Read the pamphlet -
"Help For Hard
Times" - written by Carver and forwarded by Booker T.
Washington as an example of the educational material provided to
farmers by Carver.)
At Tuskegee Carver developed his crop rotation method, which
revolutionized southern agriculture. He educated the farmers
alternate the soil-depleting cotton crops with soil-enriching
as peanuts, peas, soybeans, sweet potato, and pecans.
America's economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture during
this era, making Carver's achievements very significant.
Decades of growing only cotton and tobacco had depleted the soils
of the southern area of the United States. The economy of
the farming south had been devastated by
years of civil war and the fact that the cotton and tobacco
could no longer use slave labor. Carver convinced the
farmers to follow his suggestions and helped the region to
Carver also worked at developing industrial applications from
agricultural crops. During World War I, he found a way to
textile dyes formerly imported from Europe. He produced dyes
different shades and he was responsible for the invention in 1927
of a process for producing paints and stains from soybeans.
For that he
received three separate patents.
Carver did not patent or profit from most of his products.
gave his discoveries to humankind. Most important was the
fact that he
changed the South from being a one-crop land of cotton, to being
multi-crop farmlands, with farmers having hundreds of profitable
for their new crops. "God gave them to me," he
would say about his
ideas, "How can I sell them to someone else?" In
1940, Carver donated
his life savings to the establishment of the Carver Research
at Tuskegee, for continuing research in agriculture. George
Washington Carver was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Simpson
College in 1928. He was an honorary member of the Royal
Society of Arts in London, England. In 1923, he received the
Spingarn Medal given every year by the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People. In 1939, he received the
Roosevelt medal for restoring southern agriculture. On July
14, 1943, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt honored Carver
with a national monument dedicated to his accomplishments.
The area of Carver's childhood near Diamond Grove,
Missouri preserved as a park, this park was the first designated
national monument to an African American in the United States.
"He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither,
happiness and honor in being helpful to the world." - Epitaph
grave of George Washington Carver.