African-American Pioneers in Science

George Washington Carver (1860 - 1943)

George Washington Carver Photo
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Botanist

Birthplace

Diamond, Missouri

Education

B.S. and M.S. Iowa State Agricultural College

Profile
  • George Washington Carver
  • African-American pioneer in botany & agriculture science
  • Prolific scientist & inventor who developed hundreds of products made from peanuts, soybeans and other crops

George Washington Carver was born around 1860 (exact year is unknown) in Diamond Grove, Newton County, Missouri (now Diamond, Missouri). Born into slavery, he, his mother Mary and siblings were owned by Moses and Susan Carver. During the Civil War, when he was just an infant, George and his mother were kidnapped when the Carver's farm was raided. The Carvers were eventually only able to get George back after paying a ransom. After the war was over, the Carvers raised George as their own son, teaching him to read and write. It was then he took the name Carver. Beginning in 1877 and for several years thereafter, Carver worked odd jobs and attended several schools in Missouri and Kansas. During this time he encountered another black man named "George Carver" and to prevent confusion, added "Washington" as his middle name. He eventually earned his high school diploma in 1894 at Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas. After high school, Carver was accepted into Highland College (in Kansas) but was denied entry because of race. He eventually was able to attend college in Iowa at Simpson College and Iowa State Agricultural College where he earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in 1894 and 1896 respectively.


After graduating from college, Carver was invited by Booker T. Washington to teach and head the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). At Tuskegee, Carver began researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and other crops. This research was fueled by his desire to help farmers (mostly poor farmers and sharecroppers in the South) grow more crops for food. For many decades, most farmers completely relied on their cotton crops for their livelihood. However, over time, over-planting had depleted many of the necessary nutrients (especially nitrogen) from the soil for successful cotton crops. Carver pioneered methods of crop rotation; alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes and legumes as a method to restore necessary nutrients to soil. In addition to this work, through the industrial research facility he established at Tuskegee, Carver and his assistants developed hundreds of new uses and products made from peanuts, soybeans and other crops. These products included peanut oil, cheeses, facial creams, soap, plastics, paints and dyes - and of course peanut butter.

In 1938, Carver established the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee to continue agricultural research.


George Washington Carver's pioneering work in science and agriculture has made him one of the most well known African-Americans in United States history and an African-American hero. For his achievements he's been honored by U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Throughout his lifetime he's received many honors including being voted into the Royal Society of Arts (in 1916) and receiving the Roosevelt Medal (in 1939). Many institutions have honored him and dozens of elementary and high schools have been named after him.