Dr. George Washington Carver is arguably the most well known black scientist and inventor to date. Carver, born into slavery, was primarily an agricultural scientist and inventor. Many remember him for his extensive work with peanuts - for which he discovered over 300 uses.
Besides peanuts, the name George Washington Carver is usually associated with Tuskegee Institute, which is now Tuskegee University. Tuskegee is a historically black college founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington for the advancement of African Americans. Carver conducted the majority of his research at Tuskegee, where he also taught and resided. The rural Alabama campus features a museum dedicated to the life and work of George Washington Carver.
Biography of George Washington Carver
While he spent his most glorious days in Tuskegee, George Washington Carver was born in Diamond Grove, Missouri, just prior to the abolition of slavery. Carver and his mother were kidnapped from their plantation when he was just a baby. The plantation owner found him, but unfortunately not his mother.
George Washington Carver suffered poor health as a child and was known throughout his life for his very slight stature. Biographers contend that he may have been castrated, as was common practice during that time for male household servants. Those who support this claim point not only to his small frame, but to his high pitched voice and solitary lifestyle. While this remains a point of interest in the narrative of exactly how much hardship and trauma this famous black inventor had to overcome due to his background, his unique persona definitely left people divided on how to receive him.
Tuskegee founder Booker T. Washington was often at odds with the sometimes eccentric Carver. George Washington Carver’s presence at school was a source of contention between the two. Carver preferred his lab work to his teaching duties, which was unacceptable in Washington’s eyes. University faculty also resented Carver for his handsome salary and the freedom he was given due to his popularity. Despite these criticisms, George Washington Carver remains uncontested as the foremost black inventor of his time, and perhaps of eternity. Unprecedented during his era, Carver enjoyed acclaim amongst both races, and was even welcomed internationally. This is in part due to the fact that his humanitarian efforts were as extensive as his contributions to science.
George Washington Carver’s Inventions
George Washington Carver believed that it was important to empower people in order to promote equality. Many of his agricultural discoveries aimed at improving the economy in the American south, where many Black Americans worked for land ownership.
He worked tirelessly to discover uses for the crops that could be grown in the south, namely peanuts and sweet potatoes. Carver usually published his work in the format of easy to read bulletins to make his findings accessible by local farmers. One of his major endeavors was to prevent soil depletion by encouraging farmers to grow more than just cotton.
By encouraging crop rotation, George Washington Carver schooled the American south on sustainability. He not only taught farmers, how to, what and when to farm but published a veritable body of work on crop utility. Carver wrote recipes, came up with fuel alternatives, medications and more based on the uses of soybeans, peanuts, and sweet potatoes. Because of his prominence as a scholar at Tuskegee, Carver had a national audience with which to share his work.
During the polio epidemic, he created a peanut oil rub for massaging patients to health. While the massage element of the treatment was later said to be more salient than the oil itself, his work was instrumental in rehabilitating polio patients. In addition to his work to help small farms become independent and to make use of Southern crops, Carver was also active in international affairs and politics.
World Famous Black Inventor
Tuskegee, despite its humble beginnings, became a center of innovation in the sciences. George Washington Carver’s influence in building the institution's Department of Agriculture. His aim to free farming families from the oppressive structures of the American agricultural system at the time also gained the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Dr. Carver and Booker T. Washington worked tirelessly to champion the rights of the poor and of African Americans. Their policy agendas focused on inclusion, which made them targets of criticism by leaders with more radical ideas on race and reparations. Both Carver and Washington toured the country giving speeches on inclusiveness and education.
The spotlight they gained nationally would translate to international recognition for Carver. Later in his life, he went on to serve as an agricultural and nutritional advisor for Mahatma Gandhi. In their correspondence, Carver sent Gandhi some of his bulletins and advised the Indian leader to use them to teach his people, to circumvent their dependence on the British and to increase their economic independence. In addition to his work with Gandhi, Carver was also recognized by the British Royal Society of Arts.
Legacy of George Washington Carver
Unlike many geniuses, Carver did receive the recognition he was due while he was still alive to see it. However, his legacy is still larger than life. When George Washington Carver passed away in Tuskegee in 1945, his entire estate was donated to the George Washington Carver Foundation. Tuskegee University students learn about the life of George Washington Carver at school during freshman orientation. Visitors of the scenic campus typically flock to the museum dedicated to Carver.
In addition to being honored at his beloved institution, Carver also was honored as a national hero. A bill was passed unanimously in congress following his death for the construction of a monument in his birthplace, Diamond Grove, Missouri. President Theodore Roosevelt personally donated the money for the monument. Carver is featured on two commemorative stamps, and on a fifty-cent coin.
There are science centers and museums all over the country that honor his legacy. Additionally, students still receive scholarships in his name. To be celebrated in life and in death is a true testament to the exemplary life lived by Dr. George Washington Carver.