Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver (c. 1864-5 - January 5, 1943) was an American botanist who worked in agricultural extension in the southern U.S.. He taught former slaves farming techniques for self-sufficiency, he is known for suggesting hundreds of uses for the peanut and other plants to increase the profitability of farming.
Carver was born into slavery in the early 1860s, near Diamond Grove Missouri. His owner was a German immigrant named Moses Carver, who also owned his mother and brother. His father died in an accident when he was very young. When George was an infant, he and his mother were kidnapped by thieves who hoped to sell them elsewhere, a common practice. Carver tracked them down. When he was found, George was near death (his mother was lost). This episode caused a bout of respiratory disease that left him with a permanently weakened constitution. Because of this, he was unable to work as a hand and spent his time wandering the fields, drawn to the varieties of wild plants. He became so knowledgeable that he was known by the Carvers' neighbors as "the plant doctor".
One day he was called to a neighbor's house to help with a plant in need. When he had fixed the problem, he was told to go into the kitchen to collect his reward. When he entered the kitchen, he saw no one. He did, however, see something that changed his life. He saw beautiful paintings of flowers on the walls of the room. From that moment on, he knew that he was going to be an artist as well as a botanist.
After slavery was abolished, Carver and his wife raised George and his brother as their own, and encouraged the boy to continue his intellectual pursuits. When George was 12, he decided to strike out on his own, much to the Carvers' distress. He had set out to get an education, and his first destination was a school in a different town. When he reached the town, and to his dismay, the school had been closed for the night. As he had nowhere to stay, he slept in a nearby barn. By his own account, the next morning he met a kindly woman from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself "Carver's George", as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on, his name was "George Carver". They then struck a deal: He would be paid money for cooking for the family and he could go to school. He lived under the steps of the family porch until his money was sufficient to buy a shack. He was eventually forced to leave town because of a lynching of a black person. He promptly left, but still carried scars from this incident for the rest of his life.
He earned his high-school diploma at Minneapolis High School in Kansas. He was accepted to Simpson College in 1887, and then transferred to Iowa State University (then Iowa State Agricultural College) where he earned bachelor's (1894) and master's (1896) degrees. He was also member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. In order to avoid confusion with another George Carver in his classes, he began to use the name George Washington Carver.
Taking an interest in the plight of poor Southern farmers working with soil depleted by repeated crops of cotton, Carver advocated employing the nitrogen cycle by alternating cotton crops with legume planting, such as peanuts, to restore nitrogen to the soil. Thus, the cotton crop was improved and new cash crops added. He developed an agricultural extension system in Alabama to train farmers in raising these crops and an industrial research laboratory to develop uses for them.
In order to make these new crops profitable, Carver devised numerous uses, several of which were unique, for the new crops, including more than 300 uses for the peanut ranging from glue to printer's ink; however, contrary to popular belief, this list does not include peanut butter. He made similar investigations into uses for plants such as sweet potatoes and pecans
Carver was not widely known for his agricultural research, however he became one of the best-known African Americans of his era, following the funeral of Brooker T. Washington in 1915, on that occassion he was praised by Theodore Roosevelt. Following that he was approached by a peanut growers' associtation to serve as a spokesperson. He represented the peanut growers at a sitting of the United States Congress, to explain his ideas. They said that he had only ten minutes, as he was an African American. Carver started his report, and by the time those ten minutes were up, Carver had intrigued the men so much that the head congressman said, "Go on, brother. Your time is unlimited".
Carver was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1923 by the NAACP. Advocates of racial equality, the New South, a religious approach to science, the American Dream, and even segregation appropriated Carver as a symbol of their varied causes. In 1940 he used his savings to establish the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee University. He was even honoured by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR had donated $30,000 to a national monument to recognise George Washington Carver's many great contributions to the country and the world.
Death and afterwards
George Washington Carver died January 5, 1943. He had decided to not take the elevator this time, and fell down the stairs of the building. While he was unconscious, he was found by a maid, who took him to a hospital. Unfortunately, he died a few days later.
Carver researched at Iowa State University, and Carver Science Building at Simpson College are named after him. He appeared on US commemorative stamps in 1947 and 1998 and was depicted on a commemorative half-dollar in 1953. The USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) is named in his honour.
- McMurry, L. O. Carver, George Washington. American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
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