George Washington Carver
Genius botanist who revolutionized the economy of the post Civil War torn Southby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
George Washington Carver, born a slave, became one of the finest scientists
of the world. He not only revolutionized the economy of the South, helped switch
the excessive dependency of the Southern states from cotton, but also paved
the way for others to overcome racial difficulties by hard, determined work.
So, who was this man who invented over four hundred synthetic products out of
peanuts, sweet potatoes and pecans ? What so intrigued Edison that he offered
Carver $100,000 a year to work for him? How did he make synthetic marble out
of wood-shavings, plastic out of soybean, and ink, shampoo and instant coffee
out of peanuts? This was a humble man that dedicated his life to serve his fellow
countrymen and God with his talent. While his many achievements are glorified
and marveled at, not many know that his dedication and sacrificial life for
the good of others came from a personal friendship with his Savior.
George Carver was born as a slave in Diamond Grove, Missouri on January 5, 1864. While still an infant, slave raiders kidnapped him and his mother. They ransomed George back to the plantation in exchange for a racehorse but he never saw his mother again. He thus became an orphan since his father died before his birth. George caught whooping cough as a child, which disabled him from participating in any hard farm work. The Carver family bought him at a young age and he showed them his gratefulness by sewing and cooking. They opposed slavery, accepted him as part of the family, and thus he received his last name Carver. He took great pleasure in both studying and gardening. He showed determination, by teaching himself to write and read under hard circumstances.
At twelve, he started attending an overcrowded small school for former slaves at Fort Scott, Kansas. He worked diligently and supported himself by cleaning laundry. He studied for three years until the he knew all the school could teach him. Then he moved to various places working odd jobs and sketching flowers and animals as his hobby. When he worked in the city of Olathe, he became a good friend of the Seymour’s and traveled with them when they moved. When he was sixteen, they moved to Minneapolis, Kansas where he joined a high school. When he finished there, he applied at the Highland Presbyterian College, which accepted him. But when he appeared at the school, and the oficials found out he was black, they rejected him from the school. He went back dejected and spent the next five years farming near the town called Beeler. While there, he focused his studying and sketching upon the local flowers and plants.
After five years, at the age of thirty, he applied and was admitted as the first black student of Simpson College in the state of Iowa. From here, the college relocated him to Iowa Agricultural College where, he graduated with a degree in agricultural science in 1894. He showed himself thorough and a competent student and became the first African-American student accepted at both Simpson College and Iowa Agricultural College. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree two years later. Right away, the college asked him to teach the students. Though he accepted their offer, very shortly he moved to teach at the Tuskegee Institute upon the invitation of Booker T. Washington, the president of the Tuskegee Institute. The institute originated with the purpose of educating African-Americans that wanted to receive a high education and also for promoting development and agriculture. Since the institute matched Dr. Carver’s ideas and gave him an opportunity to research plants, he eagerly took up the position as head of the Agriculture Department. He spent about forty years researching and teaching there.
He was most appreciated by the people of the southern states though, not for his contribution to science but for his use of knowledge and motivation to help the needs of the farmers. The war had put an end on slavery and thus the benefit of cotton. So many plantations had depended on cotton that many were badly hurt financially. Also, cotton very quickly stripped the nutrients from the soil, making it hard to grow anything else where cotton had once grown. But Washington Carver traveled throughout the South, organizing, encouraging and participating in rallies to educate the poor farmers how to use their fields to the utmost and how to restore the fields that had lost their fertility. Carver encouraged people to grow soybeans, which, unlike cotton, restore nutrients into the land. Also, he invented uses for soybeans and peanuts so that a demand would grow for them. Once he invented products from these, he educated the public of their benefits. Of his hundreds of inventions, he only patented three. He intentionally refused patents for the rest, so the general public could freely access them.
Throughout his life, Carver’s goal changed very little. In his opinion, “God had given him these discoveries … and now he had the privilege of giving them to others.” With all his inventions, he sought to help the lower class farmers like his foster parents. He thought the truly successful person was the one who had learned to serve others. He chose, for example, to continue working for Tuskegee than work for Edison and earn a large amount of money because he believed that it would help his countrymen more. His last contribution showed that little change had come over his attitude of sacrificial giving for the sake of others. He, at the end of his life, gave the Tuskegee Institute his life savings, a sum of $30,000 to help the advancement of agriculture.
Wellman, Sam, George Washington Carver, Heroes of the Faith,
Barbour Publishing Inc., Uhrichsville, Ohio
“Biographies-George Washington Carver,” The African American Almanac, 7th ed., Gale, 1997, http://www.gale.com/free_resources/bhm/bio/carver_g.htm (September 20-23, 2004)
“George Washington Carver,” Garden of Praise, N/A, <http://www.gardenofpraise.com/ibdcarve.htm> (September 21-23, 2004)
“George W. Carver,” Kansas State Historical Society, 2004, <http://www.kshs.org/portraits/carver_george.htm>
“George Washington Carver All-University Celebration,” 1998, <http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/gwc/resources/links.html> (September 20-24)
For those interested on detailed synthetic products out of peanuts look at the list mentioned as an extension on the web site above, < http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/gwc/resources/furtherresearch.html> (September 20-24)