February 20, 2023
George Washington Carver (born around 1861–died 1943) was an agricultural scientist and inventor, born into slavery. Following the abolition of slavery in 1865, George and his brother James grew up on their previous slave owner’s farm. As a youth, George showed interest in plants and agriculture. The first college that accepted him, turned him away after he showed up for class and school officials saw that he was Black. Eventually, he became the first Black student at Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) and would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science as well as a Master of Science degree.
After earning his degrees, he went on to work at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama as the Director of Agricultural Research. Carver devoted his research to help southern agriculture and find ways farmers could improve their economic situation. He helped farmers who had exhausted the nutrients in their fields from only planting cotton, telling them to plant peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes which would recover the nitrogen in the soil. Then, a few years later, the farmers were able to plant cotton again with higher yields than before. This process is known as crop-rotation and is still a key part of farming today.
Now that more farmers were planting crops other than cotton, they had a large amount of new supply that had little demand. Carver then set his research on inventing products made from these crops to increase their commercial possibilities. Some products he created using peanuts as an ingredient include, milk, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, and medicines.
When George Washington Carver accepted his position at the Tuskegee Institute, the peanut was not recognized as a crop, but by 1940, it became the sixth largest crop in the United States.
Today, Carver has left an important impact. He was able to bring a significant advance in agricultural training during a time when agriculture was the largest occupation of Americans and when Black Americans were mostly hidden and absent from mainstream American life. He endured racism and skepticism throughout his entire career, yet still invented several techniques and products that pushed the boundaries. Crop rotation and his work with peanuts were some of the key factors in helping the South move away from their reliance on cotton production.