George Washington Carver (1861?-1943), American scientist and educator, noted especially for his research on the peanut. Carver was internationally recognized for his research in agricultural sciences, and he is credited with having revolutionized agriculture in the Southern United States. As a teacher and as the head of agricultural research at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) in Alabama, Carver dedicated his career to finding uses for plant products and to teaching farmers the advantages of diversifying their crops.
Carver was born a slave near Diamond, Missouri, during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Around age ten he left the farm where he was born and traveled through the Midwest doing odd jobs to support his education. Carver studied constantly and attended schools wherever possible, finally graduating from high school in Minneapolis, Kansas, in 1885. That same year he passed the entrance examination at Highland College in northeastern Kansas. But when school officials learned he was black, he was prevented from attending.
In 1891 Carver was admitted to the Iowa State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts (now Iowa State University) in Ames. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1894, becoming the first black to graduate from the college. After graduation, Carver was appointed to the faculty as an assistant botanist. While teaching, he pursued his master’s degree, studying fungus diseases and classification of plants. In 1896 he received his master’s degree. That year, at the invitation of American educator Booker T. Washington, Carver became the director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for the rest of his life.
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During his tenure at Tuskegee Institute, Carver developed over 300 uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and the byproducts of these crops. From peanuts he synthesized axle grease, soap, ink, flour, plastics, a coffee substitute, and more than 200 other useful products. From sweet potatoes he derived 118 products, including molasses, vinegar, and rubber, and from soybeans he extracted an oil with many uses. Partly as a result of Carver's research, peanut cultivation in the Southern states quadrupled from 1899 to 1943. By planting peanuts and sweet potatoes in addition to cotton, farmers were able to enrich their soil and were no longer economically dependent upon the success or failure of only one kind of crop.
Uninterested in business, Carver preferred that others commercialize the results of his experiments. Of his many inventions, Carver patented only three. Carver’s primary goal was to help impoverished blacks. In 1940 he donated his savings to the establishment of the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee Institute to provide scholarships in the natural sciences.
Carver was the recipient of many prestigious awards for his achievements. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of Great Britain in 1916. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded Carver the Spingarn Medal in 1923. In 1943 Congress established the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri, on the farm where Carver was born.