Biography of George Washington Carver, Discovered 300 Uses for Peanuts

He also found many uses for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes

George Washington Carver

Stock Montage / Contributor / Getty Images

George Washington Carver (January 1, 1864–January 5, 1943) was an agricultural chemist who discovered 300 uses for peanuts as well as hundreds of uses for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. His work provided a much needed boost to southern farmers who benefited economically from his recipes and improvements to 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.

Fast Facts: George Washington Carver

  • Known For: Agricultural chemist who discovered 300 uses for peanuts as well as hundreds of uses for other crops
  • Also Known As: The Plant Doctor, The Peanut Man
  • Born: January 1, 1864 in Diamond, Missouri
  • Parents: Giles and Mary Carver
  • Died: January 5, 1943 in Tuskegee, Alabama
  • Education: Iowa State University (BA, 1894; MS, 1896)
  • Published Works: Carver published 44 agricultural bulletins laying out his findings, while at the Tuskegee Institute, as well as numerous articles in peanut industry journals and a syndicated newspaper column, "Professor Carver's Advice."
  • Awards and Honors: The George Washington Carver Monument was established in 1943 west of Diamond, Missouri on the plantation where Carver was born. Carver appeared on U.S. commemorative postal stamps in 1948 and 1998, as well as a commemorative half dollar coin minted between 1951 and 1954, and many schools bear his name, as well as two United States military vessels. 
  • Notable Quote: "No books ever go into my laboratory. The thing I am to do and the way are revealed to me the moment I am inspired to create something new. Without God to draw aside the curtain, I would be helpless. Only alone can I draw close enough to God to discover His secrets."

Early Life

Carver was born on Jan. 1, 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 Carver and his mother were kidnapped by Confederate night-raiders and possibly sent away to Arkansas.

Moses found and reclaimed Carver 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 his wife reared Carver and his brother as their own children. It was on the Moses' farm that Carver first fell in love with nature and collected in earnest all manner of rocks and plants, earning him the nickname "The Plant Doctor."

Education

Carver began his formal education at the age of 12, which required him to leave the home of his adopted parents. Schools were segregated by race at that time and schools for black students weren't available near Carver's home. He moved to Newton County in southwest Missouri, where he worked as a farmhand and studied in a one-room schoolhouse. He went on to attend Minneapolis High School in Kansas.

College entrance was also a struggle because of racial barriers. At the age of 30, Carver gained acceptance to Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, where he was the first black student. Carver studied piano and art but 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 in 1894 and a Master of Science degree in bacterial botany and agriculture in 1896.

Carver became a member of the faculty of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics (he was the first black faculty member at the Iowa college), where he taught classes about soil conservation and chemurgy.

Tuskegee Institute

In 1897, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes, convinced Carver to come south and serve as the school's director of agriculture, where he remained until his death in 1943. At Tuskegee, Carver developed his crop rotation method, which revolutionized southern agriculture. He educated the farmers on methods to alternate the soil-depleting cotton crops with soil-enriching crops such 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 southern region of the United States. The economy of the farming South had also been devastated during the Civil War years and by the fact that the cotton and tobacco plantations could no longer use slave labor. Carver convinced southern farmers to follow his suggestions and helped the region to recover.

Carver also worked at developing industrial applications from agricultural crops. During World War I, he found a way to replace the textile dyes formerly imported from Europe. He produced dyes of 500 different shades and was responsible for the invention of a process for producing paints and stains from soybeans. For that, he received three separate patents.

Later Years and Death

After finding fame, Carver toured the nation to promote his findings as well as the importance of agriculture and science in general for the rest of his life. He also wrote a syndicated newspaper column, "Professor Carver's Advice," explaining his inventions and other agricultural topics. In 1940, Carver donated his life savings to establish the Carver Research Foundation at Tuskegee for continuing research in agriculture.

Carver died on Jan. 5, 1943, at the age of 78 after falling down the stairs at his home. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington on the Tuskegee Institute grounds. 

Legacy

Carver was widely recognized for his achievements and contributions. He was given an honorary doctorate from Simpson College, named an honorary member of the Royal Society of Arts in London, England, and 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, The George Washington Carver Monument was established west of Diamond, Missouri, on the plantation where Carver was born and lived as a child. President Franklin Roosevelt provided $30,000 for the 210-acre complex, which includes a statue of Carver as well as a nature trail, museum, and cemetery. Additionally, Carver appeared on U.S. commemorative postal stamps in 1948 and 1998, as well as a commemorative half dollar coin minted between 1951 and 1954. Many schools bear his name, as do two United States military vessels.

Carver did not patent or profit from most of his products. He freely gave his discoveries to mankind. His work transformed the South from being a one-crop land of cotton to a region of multi-crop farmlands, with farmers having hundreds of profitable uses for their new crops. Perhaps the best summary of his legacy is the epitaph that appears on his gravesite: "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."

Sources