George Washington Carver was a world-famous chemist who made important agricultural discoveries and inventions. His research on peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other products helped poor southern farmers vary their crops and improve their diets. A monument showing Carver as a boy was the first national memorial erected in honour of an African American.
George Washington Carver was born on a farm near Diamond, Missouri, in Newton County about 1865. His mother, Mary, was owned by Moses and Susan Carver. His father, a slave on a neighbouring farm, died before George was born. When George was just a few months old, he and his mother were kidnapped from the Carver farm by a band of men who roamed Missouri during the Civil War era. These outlaws hoped to sell George and his mother elsewhere. Young George was recovered by a neighbour and returned to the Carvers, but his mother was not. George and his older brother, Jim, were raised by Moses and Susan Carver.
While Jim helped Moses Carver with farm work, George, who was frail and sickly, spent much of his time helping Susan Carver with chores around the cabin. He learned how to perform many domestic tasks such as cooking, mending, and doing laundry. He also tended the garden and became fascinated with plants.
Susan Carver taught George to read and write at home. When he was about 11, George went to Neosho to attend a school for African Americans. There he boarded with Andrew and Mariah Watkins, a childless black couple. He stayed in Neosho for at least two years until the late 1870s when he decided to move to Kansas with other African Americans who were travelling west.
Over the next ten years, Carver travelled from one Midwestern town to another, working and attending school. He often used his domestic skills to make money. By the late 1880s, Carver moved to Winterset, Iowa. Carver was befriended by a white couple, John and Helen Milholland, who encouraged him to enrol in nearby Simpson College where he studied piano and art. After a year, however, Carver transferred to the State Agricultural College at Ames, Iowa, to study agriculture. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1894 and a graduate degree in 1896.
In 1896, George Washington Carver left Iowa to take a job with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. There he conducted agricultural research and taught students until his death. Carver’s research and instruction helped poor southern farmers, both white and black, change their farming practices and improve their diets. He stressed the importance of planting peanuts to upgrade the quality of the soil, which had been depleted from years of planting cotton. Carver found many practical uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other agricultural products. He also created and tested many recipes in his laboratory. Carver’s ideas and discoveries helped farmers improve their lives. His work also helped revitalize the depressed southern economy.
As Carver worked tirelessly in his laboratory from 1900 to 1920, his fame grew. He became widely known for his agricultural experiments. He also became known as a promoter of racial equality. People who wanted to improve race relations in America asked for Carver’s help. Carver was a deeply religious man and agreed to share his belief in racial equality. During the 1920s and 1930s, he travelled throughout the South delivering his message of racial harmony
Carver drew more public attention during the mid-1930s when the polio virus struck in America. Carver offered a treatment of peanut-oil massages that he believed helped many people, especially children, gain relief from the painful and paralyzing effects of polio. As word of Carver’s treatment spread, people flocked to the Tuskegee campus for Carver’s “cure.”
George Washington Carver’s reputation also grew larger during the 1930s because of the Great Depression. This was a period of great economic decline caused partly from generations of poor farming practices and years of drought. People from all over the world asked Carver for agricultural advice because he was able to show farmers how to maximize plant production and improve the soil at very little cost.
Carver lived a simple and industrious life. A skilled artist and musician who never married, Carver lived out his life in a dormitory at Tuskegee Institute. He became friends with many people, some of whom were quite rich and famous. One of his closest friends was the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford. Ford made sure that an elevator was installed in Carver’s dormitory so that Carver could get to his laboratory more easily in his later years. (Adapted)