HomeMagazineCover StoryGeorge Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was an American agricultural chemist, agronomist or soil expert, and educator for much of his career, having taught and completed research at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama.

Notable as one of the most recognizable African-American scientists of the early 20th century, Carver was born into slavery in Missouri. Though the Civil War ended in 1885, Carver was turned away by Highland University in Kansas even though he was accepted. In 1891, he finally found a college, Iowa State, that would allow him to study. Carver became the first black student at the college, and performed experiments in plant pathology or diseases, and mycology or the study of fungi or mushrooms. In 1896, he received his master’s degree in science and also became the first black faculty member at Iowa State.

Carver is most famous for discovering more than three hundred uses for peanuts, as well as soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. With his soil chemistry experiments, Carver learned that growing cotton reduced the nutrients naturally found in soil, reducing farm yields. He found the solution: crop rotation by growing nitrogen-fixing plants that include peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes that allowed the soil to be restored and for the land to then be used for cotton production a few years later.

Carver was also fascinated by the peanut for much of his professional life. Through his curiosity and persistence, Carver discovered a number of uses for the peanuts when its fats, oils, and sugars are separated, ranging from chili sauce, caramel, peanut sausage to cosmetics such as shaving cream hand hand lotion, as well as insecticides, glue, and axle grease. Many of those discoveries have contributed to the modern conveniences so many of us use and sometimes take for granted today.

Locally, Carver helped impoverished farmers save money by teaching them they could feed their hogs acorns instead of commercial feed and utilize swamp muck, or decomposed roots, twigs, and leaves, to enrich croplands. His scientific achievements made him a celebrity both within his community and nationally, with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt, meeting with him for agricultural advice. With so many achievements to his name in the face of adversity and racism, George Washington Carver is a renowned scientist and symbol of African-American excellence.

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