George Washington Carver’s contributions to agriculture in the U.S.
George Washington Carver, known as the “Peanut Man,” was a world-class educator and famous botanist.
In honor of Black History Month, I would like to share some fun facts about George Washington Carver, also known as the “Peanut Man.” Before he became a famous botanist and world-class educator, he was a slave. Carver was born into slavery to a woman named Mary, owned by Moses Carver. Along with his mother, he was kidnapped as an infant, tracked down and brought back to his owner’s farm. After slavery was abolished, the Carvers raised and educated George.
Carver went on to create more than 300 products from peanuts. Although his work with peanuts and his peanut inventions contributed greatly to economic improvement for the rural south and Georgia’s peanut industry, peanuts were more of a hobby to Carver. His influence on American agriculture was much broader, as he taught poor southern farmers, both white and black, more sustainable farming practices.
From a very young age, Carver was also known as the “plant doctor.” He had an insatiable appetite to learn and discover as much as he could about the natural world. He studied agriculture at Iowa State Agriculture College, now Iowa State University. His master’s thesis, “Plants as Modified by Man,” is a fascinating look at his research in cross-breeding various types of plum trees and geraniums.
Here is the eloquent conclusion of that paper: “Why should not the horticulturist know just how to build up size, flavor, vigor and hardiness in his fruits and shrubs, and the florist know just how to proceed to unite, blende and perfect the color of his flowers, producing not only harmony, but a glorious symphony of nature's daintiest tints and shades, with just as much certainty as the artist mixes his pigments upon the palette, and the novice go on with his new creations until nature refuses to indulge him longer?”
Carver became the State Agriculture Institute’s first black faculty member. He was an agricultural chemist, agronomist and botanist. After his tenure at Iowa, he moved to Alabama to teach, conduct research and become the Agriculture Director at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University. During his time at Tuskegee, he wrote 44 agricultural bulletins. These bulletins’ subjects range from alfalfa to economics, from feeding acorns to livestock to three delicious meals every day for farmers.
Carver was ahead of his time teaching about crop rotation to improve soil fertility, using organic fertilizers and improving plant productivity. He did not allow books in his laboratory, challenging students to find answers to their questions through trial and error using the scientific method. He was beloved by his students, colleagues and everyone he met. He was offered many jobs throughout his lifetime from some of the world’s most renowned people including Thomas Edison. He preferred to stay at Tuskegee, working in his lab and focusing his efforts of raising poor southern farmers out of poverty and teaching the next generation of agriculture scientists.
Throughout his lifetime, he received numerous awards including the Spingarn Medal, which is bestowed upon the black person who has made the greatest contribution to the advancement of his race. There have been many documentaries about Carver and even a Hollywood film about his life title “Life of George Washington Carver.” The George Carver Washington National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service in Newton County, Missouri Park, designated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He has a link with Michigan, as Henry Ford became one of his best friends. As Carver aged, Ford made sure an elevator was installed in the dorm at Tuskegee where Carver lived throughout his tenure.
With all this fame and notoriety, Carver was a humble man, an accomplished artist and pianist, a true friend and humanitarian, and worked endlessly for racial equality.