George Washington Carver was born in Diamond Grove, Missouri during the spring of 1864 or 1865. Like many slaves, he was uncertain of his birth date. His mother, Mary, was a slave who belonged to Moses and Susan Carver. As an infant, slave raiders kidnapped his mother. The childless carvers reared George and his older brother, James. Growing up, George was captivated by plants. Many neighbors referred to him as the “Plant Doctor”. Since Carver was an African American, he was not accepted at any local schools, therefore he had to attend school eight miles away from home.
He did very well in school. In 1885 he was accepted to Highland College in Kansas. However, race became an issue again and they took away the offer. He became very discouraged and chose to travel abroad until 1890 where he found himself in Iowa. He decided to enroll in Simpson College in Indianola. One of his teachers recognized his many talents and encouraged him to transfer to Iowa State College at Ames, which he did in May 1891. At Iowa State, Carver found that he was especially gifted in plant hybridization and the study of fungi.
In 1894, Carver earned a bachelor of science degree and, in 1896, a Master of Science degree in agriculture and bacterial botany. That same year, Booker T. Washington offered Carver a job teaching at Tuskegee Institute. During his first few years at Tuskegee, he made many improvements in the agricultural program. With the help of other colleagues, he created the Farmers’ Institute. This was a group of farmers who met monthly to acquire agricultural advice from the Tuskegee staff.
As well as creating the Farmers’ Institute, Carver also helped the farmers of Alabama and the southern states a great deal. An insect called the boll weevil became an enormous threat to the cotton fields of southern United States. Carver recommended to these farmers that they should substitute their cotton crops with sweet potatoes and, the more successful recommendation, peanuts. This switch would provide farmers another source of income and would also help to prevent the spread of the insect.
The one problem with this solution was that no one knew what to do with all the peanut crops. Carver was quoted as saying: “we can learn to synthesize materials for every human need from the things that grow. ” So that is what he did. In total, Carver was able to create close to three hundred different products from the peanut plant. These wide variety of products include dyes, ink, insulation, cosmetics, stock feed, medicines, glue, soap, and peanut milk. Although most of his products never became commercially sold, Carver became widely known as the “Peanut Man”.
He also created nearly one hundred uses for the sweet potato crops. Even though George Washington Carver was well known throughout parts of the south, his real rise to fame started in 1916. Carver was invited to join the Royal Society for the Arts. Shortly afterward, the Carver Products Company was founded to market his many products. Carver was also honored with the medal of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943.
He inspired both young and old people, both black and white in a number of positive ways. He will be remembered particularly for the significant scientific contributions he made to agriculture and crop diversification. He contributed financially to fund The George Washington Carver Foundation, an agency which still exists at Tuskegee Institute today. It is believed that his race prevented him from being given the same opportunities as white scientists thus preventing him from making more momentous discoveries in the areas of mycology or plant hybridization.