Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Example of George Washington Carver


George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Diamond, Missouri, around 1864. Carver went on to become one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time, as well as a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute. Carver devised over 100 products using one of these crops—the peanut—including dyes, plastics and gasoline.

Early Years

Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver was one of many children born to Mary and Giles, an enslaved couple owned by Moses Carver. He was born during the Civil War years, most likely in 1864. A week after his birth, George was kidnapped along with his sister and mother from the Carver farm by raiders from the neighboring state of Arkansas. The three were sold in Kentucky, and among them only the infant George was located by an agent of Moses Carver and returned to Missouri.
The conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 brought the end of slavery in Missouri. Moses Carver and his wife, Susan, decided to keep George and his brother James at their home after that time, raising and educating the two boys. Susan Carver taught George to read and write, since no local school would accept black students at the time.

The search for knowledge would remain a driving force for the rest of George's life. As a young man, instead of attending classes, he homesteaded a claim, where he conducted biological experiments and compiled a geological collection. His aptitude for drawing the natural world enabled him to enroll in the botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College.

Carver moved to Ames and began his botanical studies the following year as the first black student at Iowa State. Carver excelled in his studies. Upon completion of his Bachelor of Science degree, Carver's professors persuaded him to stay on for a master's degree. His graduate studies included intensive work in plant pathology at the Iowa Experiment Station. In these years, Carver established his reputation as a brilliant botanist and began the work that he would pursue for the remainder of his career.

Carvers work

After graduating from Iowa State, Carver embarked on a career of teaching and research.  Carver was hired to run the school's agricultural department in 1896.  Areas of research and training included methods of crop rotation and the development of alternative cash crops for farmers in areas heavily planted with cotton. This work helped struggling sharecroppers in the South, many of them former slaves now faced with necessary cultivation under harsh conditions, including the devastation of the boll weevil in 1892. The development of new crops and diversification of crop use helped to stabilize the livelihoods of these people who had backgrounds not unlike Carver's own.

The education that Carver provided contributed directly to the effort of economic stabilization among blacks. In addition to formal education in a traditional classroom setting, Carver pioneered a mobile classroom to bring his lessons to farmers. The classroom was known as a "Jesup wagon," after New York financier Morris Ketchum Jesup.

Rise to Prominence

Carver's work included groundbreaking research on plant biology that brought him to national prominence. Many of these early experiments focused on the development of new uses for crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans. The hundreds of products he invented included plastics, paints, dyes and even a kind of gasoline. In 1920, Carver delivered a speech before the Peanut Growers Association, attesting to the wide potential of peanuts. The following year, he testified before Congress in support of a tariff on imported peanuts. With the help of Carver's testimony, the proponents of the tariff were able to institute it in 1922.

By the time of his testimony Carver had already achieved international fame in political and professional circles. President Theodore Roosevelt admired his work and sought his advice on agricultural matters in the United States.  In 1916, he was made a member of the British Royal Society of Arts and he regularly advised Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi on matters of agriculture and nutrition.

George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943, at the age of 78. His epitaph reads: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."

-Taken from

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