George Washington Carver Biography
George Washington Carver was one of the most distinguished African American scientist. He was the person who declined to accept a comfortable position just to serve his people. It is difficult to find a man of his calibre.
No one had ever thought that this weak, sickly child would grow to be one of the most distinguished agriculturists in America. Born to a slave girl, near Diamond Grove, Missouri, George Washington Carver was raised by his owner, Moses Carver. He and his wife Susan treated George and his brother Jim as their own sons. Jim, who was stronger, always helped Moses in his outdoor work. Whereas, being very frail, George helped Susan indoors. His first learning started there. Susan gave him his lessons in reading, cooking, embroidery, baking, etc. George absorbed everything like sponge.
As a child he had exceptional observational skills and a keen curiosity. His love for nature and animals was beyond his age. Moses and Susan tried very hard to satisfy his needs. However, soon they realized that he needed to go to the regular school. Those days colored children were not allowed in the schools for white children.
George had to leave the town and go to Neosho, Missouri to attend the school for colored children. Later he moved to Fort Scott, Kansas to attend high school. In 1891 he got admission in Iowa State University and gained his BS in 1894 and MS in 1897 in “Bacterial Botany” and “Agriculture”. Meanwhile he also took art and piano lessons.
His school and college life was full of hardships and struggle. Since he never had enough money to pay his fees, he often had to drop out temporarily to earn and then enroll again. During this period he worked as a housekeeper, cook, gardener, launder. He did every job with devotion and tried to achieve perfection. Thus he gained recognition everywhere he went.
Carver started teaching in Iowa State University. He was the first African American among the teaching faculty. However, in 1897 Booker T Washington, founder of the ‘Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes’, convinced Carver to come south and serve as the school's director of agriculture. Carver remained on the faculty until his death in 1943.
His dream was to train and equip colored men and women so that they could gain a suitable employment and he devoted his whole life for this purpose.
At Tuskegee he was challenged by the lack of funds and resources. His first task was to build a laboratory. He collected materials like bottles, pots, wires, tubes from trash and converted those into lab equipment. He taught his students to recycle trash and use resources available locally.
At Tuskegee farmers were taking cotton and tobacco crops year after year. The soil was depleted and the produce was deteriorated in quality.
He advised farmers to use crop rotation. Since peanuts and sweet potato crops have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots, these plants restore nitrogen levels in the soil, which helps other plants like cotton to grow better.
His crop rotation method was huge success. But then it posed another serious problem. There were no buyers for peanuts and sweet potatoes, as people did not know any other use of it except to eat it raw or boiled.
Carver worked day and night to make various products from peanuts & sweet potato. Some of the marketable products made from peanuts were peanut butter, shampoo, milk, cheese, mayonnaise, instant coffee, flour, soap, dyes, face powder, oil, adhesives, plastics and pickles. The products made from sweet potato include, vinegar, flour, starch, molasses and ink.
During his lifetime he developed 325 products from peanuts, 108 products from sweet potatoes, 75 applications of pecans, 118 industrial products from agricultural products and over 500 dyes from the plants, which was incredible. His experiments soon gave him recognition as a “peanut man.”
He did not profit from his discoveries; he gave them to mankind. He was never interested in the commercial use of his products. He would say. "God gave them to me. How can I sell them to someone else?"
He strongly believed that the inventor no longer remains an inventor if he starts seeking commercial gratification. He also donated his life savings to the Carver Foundation at Tuskegee in 1940.
George Washington Carver received the Spingarn Medal in 1923, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was bestowed an honorary doctorate from Simpson College in 1928. He was made an honorary member of the Royal Society of Arts in London, England. In 1939 he was awarded the Roosevelt medal for restoring southern agriculture.
Though famous he was subjected to racism quite frequently. However, he took it silently without becoming bitter, as he did not want to divert himself from the goal of helping his people.
Carver died on Jan 5th, 1943. On July 14, 1943 U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt honored him with a ‘National Monument’ dedicated to his accomplishments
"It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success." Carver said so and followed it throughout his life.