George Washington Carver: Biography And Inventions

George Washington Carver's biography and inventions

Who would have imagined that a sickly little slave born during the civil war would turn out to save the entire farming industry in the South? Born on a Missouri farm near Diamond Grove (now called Diamond), Missouri. George Washington Carver's research developed 325 products from peanuts, 108 applications for sweet potatoes, 75 products derived from pecan, among other things, which provided demand for other products that would grow in the soil after it had become depleted by the cotton industry.

More important than his accomplishments were his image and what he meant to the people of his day. George Washington Carver captured the imagination of the American public. He was an eccentric but modest man who was many things to many people. To Southern businessmen Carver stood for a new Southern philosophy. To religious leaders his reliance upon God as an inspirational source stood as an example against materialism. Those struggling through the depression were given renewed hope in the American Dream. To people concerned with race relations Carver's career either proved that Black people could be intelligent or that slavery and segregation could not have been too bad if they produced a Carver. And to the general public, Carver made science simple and understandable. These views caused his life and personality to be highlighted and exaggerated in order to prove different points. His overall public image that emerged was that of a "kindly old wizard" who it was difficult to find any offense to.

The stories of about George Washington Carvers' childhood vary depending on who is telling it. Former slave owners kept poor records of slave births, so no one including himself is certain of exactly when he was born. There are different stories however regarding how he came to be raised by the Carvers, who were his former slave owners. Moses Carver was the landowner who purchased a thirteen-year-old girl named Mary in 1855. Moses, and his wife Susan, Carver were unconventional in their basic opposition to slavery and their support of the Union in the decade of rising tensions that eventually cumulated in the Civil War. The most popular opinion about the disappearance of Carvers mother and his subsequent childhood spent with Moses Carver and his wife Susan, is that confederates who took advantage of kidnapped him and his mother unsettled conditions in the south. Being a prosperous slave owning Unionists, the carver farm was raided on several occasions. Near the end of the Civil War a group of men rode onto Moses Carver's land in search of money. Moses and Jim Carver were able to hide but Mary and the infant George were kidnapped and taken into Confederate Arkansas. The infant George was returned to Moses Carver in the end of 1865by a neighbor, John Bentley, but his mother Mary either died or could not be found. Susan raised George Carver and Moses Carver The identity of George Carver's father is uncertain. "He usually named his father as a slave on a neighboring farm who was killed in a log-hauling accident shortly after George was born." (Mitchel C. Brown) In contrast to his brother Jim, who the Carvers also raised George was listed as "Negro" rather than "mulatto" in the 1870 census. His brother was most likely the product of a white man.

As a boy, George had a delicate sense of color and form and learned to draw, and throughout his life he could be found painting flowers, plants, and landscapes. He developed these talents through his interest in plant, which began at an early age. He thrived under the care of the Carvers until at the age of ten, he left home a colored school in the nearby community of Neosho, where he did chores for a black family in exchange for food and a place to sleep. He maintained his interest in plants while putting himself through high school in Minneapolis, Kansas, and during his first and only year at Simpson College in Iowa. Carver was thirty years old in 1890 when he enrolled as a freshman and the first Black student at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He transferred to the Iowa State College and Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in Ames.

Following his graduation in 1894 from Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now Iowa State University), Carver joined the college faculty and continued his studies, specializing in bacteriological laboratory work in systematic botany. In 1896 he became director of the Department of Agricultural Research at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University), Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, a school headed by the noted black American educator Booker T. Washington where he began an unending series of experiments with peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans and Georgia clay. Also, during World War II he worked to replace the textile dyes formerly imported from Europe. He produced 500 different shades of dye. During his 50-year tenure at Tuskegee, Carver popularized study of farming, while improving the health and agricultural output of southern farmers. Of his hundreds of discoveries, he only patented three, one of which was for women's cosmetics. He felt that his discoveries were God given and that he should not profit from them.

"In 1914, when the boll weevil had practically ruined the cotton crops, Carver made his experiments public, causing increased numbers of Southern farmers to turn to peanuts, sweet potatoes, and their derivatives for income. Exhausted land was renewed, and the South became a major supplier of agricultural products. Once never even recognized as a crop, the peanut became one of the six leading crops throughout the United States and, in the South, the second cash crop (after cotton) by 1940. In 1942 the U.S. government allotted 5,000,000 acres of peanuts to farmers. " (Encyclopedia Britannica)



Carver was greatly recognized for his accomplishments. He received his election to Britain's Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (London) in 1916, the Spingarn Medal in 1923 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in 1935 he was appointed collaborator in the Division of Plant Mycology and Disease Survey of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. George Washington Carver was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Simpson College in 1928, and he was made a member of the Royal Society of Arts in London, England. He was also awarded the Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture in 1942; a national monument in Diamond Grove, Mo.; commemorative postage stamps in 1947 and 1998, and a fifty-cent coin in 1951. He was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1977 and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1994, Iowa State awarded him the degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.

He was also offered many prestigious jobs that he turned down. Among them were an invitation to work for Thomas A. Edison at a salary of more than $100,000 a year, and foreign governments requesting his counsel on agricultural matters including Joseph Stalin, who, in 1931 invited him to superintend cotton plantations in southern Russia and to make a tour of the Soviet Union. Among his visitors were Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his friends included Henry Ford and Mohandas K. Gandhi. In 1940 he donated all his savings to the establishment of the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee for research in natural science. Carver died at Tuskegee, on January 5, 1943 of anemia.

Upon his death, Carver contributed his life savings to establish a research institute at Tuskegee. His birthplace was declared a national monument in 1953. "Some of the synthetic products developed by Dr. Carver were: Adhesives Axle Grease, Bleach, Buttermilk, Cheese, chili Sauce, Cream, Creosote, Dyes, Flour, Fuel Briquettes, Ink, Instant Coffee, Insulating Board, Linoleum, Mayonnaise, Meal, Meat Tenderizer Metal Polish, Milk Flakes, Mucilage, Paper, Rubbing Oils, Salve, Soil Conditioner, Shampoo, Shoe Polish, Shaving Cream, Sugar, Synthetic Marble, Synthetic Rubber, Talcum Powder, Vanishing Cream, Wood Stains, Wood Filler, Worcestershire Sauce". Hattie Carwell)

The words he spoke at his commencement address at Selma University, Selma Alabama on May 27, 1942 should serve as inspiration for us all:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You've all that the greatest of men have had,

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began,

So start for the top and say, "I can."

(Excerpt from poem by--Edgar A. Guest)

Information sources: Hattie Carwell. Blacks in Science

Astrophysicist to Zoologist.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Mitchell C. Brown, The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences

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