A renowned African American scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver helped enhance agriculture in many different ways.
Born a slave, George Washington Carver’s exact date of birth is still unknown. He was born in the late 19th century, a year or so before 1865, on a plantation in today’s Missouri, US. A bright child, he left home to pursue education, but his path was rather complicated.
Eventually earning status as an acclaimed scientist, he helped enhance agricultural practice and different products from mostly peanuts, but also soybeans and sweet potatoes, earning the famous nickname, The Peanut Man.
Tough road from slavery to education
Although he was born into slavery, the gruesome practice was abolished soon after his birth. Yet, this doesn’t mean that he was spared of racial injustice. His biological parents were kidnapped when he was just a week old. His parents’ slave owner Moses Carver and his wife raised him and his brother as their own children.
Eager to learn, George Washington Carver first attended a school for African Americans, and at 13 he moved to Kansas for higher education. His experience in Kansas wasn’t a pleasant one, as he faced racial problems applying for different colleges.
After a lot of years of hard work, he eventually enrolled in Iowa State, earning a Bachelors and Masters degrees in botany by 1896. He soon became the first-ever black faculty member at Iowa State and his works in plant pathology and mycology brought him national acclaim.
Substantial contribution to science and agriculture
Having tremendous experience in growing and ploughing different plants and fruits even before college, Carver’s research was inspired and focused on helping farmers increase their yield. He introduced the idea of crop rotation at the most crucial moment when the cotton plantation soil became depleted of nutrients.
This same problem inspired his advance in research with peanuts, soybeans, pecans, sweet potatoes and other nitrogen-restoring plants. He suggested the use of swamp muck instead of fertilisers and growing of these plants in order to restore the soil.
Thanks to the increased production of these plants, Carver needed to find new uses for the growing yields, which led to his invention of different products made of said plants such as flour, vinegar, paints, dyes, writing ink, soaps, cooking oil and wood stains. Peanuts led to his biggest inventions of products such as milk, sauce, paper, cosmetics and even some medications such as antiseptics and laxatives.
Overall, he contributed to the invention of over 300 products from peanuts and 118 from sweet potatoes. Many of these didn’t manage to be realised at the time, though.
Other work and contribution
Dedicated to the community, Carver invented the Jessup wagon – a mobile laboratory that helps farmers determine chemical features of their soil. In 1916, he became a member of the Royal Society of Arts in Britain. He worked as a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute for 47 years. He was passionate about environmentalism, which eventually culminated in Time magazine, naming him the Black Leonardo in 1941, just two years before his death.
Today, his work is celebrated in a museum of his own – the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Centre in Austin, Texas, but also throughout the world and especially the African American community.