"Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom."
- George Washington Carver
Who Was George Washington Carver?
(from biography.com) - George Washington Carver (c. 1864 to January 5, 1943) was born into slavery and went on to become a botanist and one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time as well as a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute. Carver devised over 100 products using one major crop — the peanut — including dyes, plastics and gasoline.
George Washington Carver’s Inventions
Carver's work at the helm of the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural department included groundbreaking research on plant biology, much of which focused on the development of new uses for crops including peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans. Carver invented hundreds of products, including more than 300 from peanuts (milk, plastics, paints, dyes, cosmetics, medicinal oils, soap, ink, wood stains) and 118 from sweet potatoes (molasses, postage stamp glue, flour, vinegar and synthetic rubber) and even a type of gasoline. At the time, cotton production was on the decline in the South; overproduction of a single crop had left many fields exhausted and barren. Carver suggested planting peanuts and soybeans, both of which could restore nitrogen to the soil, along with sweet potatoes. While these crops grew well in southern climates, there was little demand. Carver’s inventions and research solved this problem and helped struggling sharecroppers in the South, many of them former slaves now faced with necessary cultivation.
Tuskegee Institute Scientist
After graduating from Iowa State, Carver embarked on a career of teaching and research. Booker T. Washington, the principal of the African-American Tuskegee Institute, hired Carver to run the school's agricultural department in 1896. Carver's special status stemmed from his accomplishments and reputation, as well as his degree from a prominent institution not normally open to black students.
Tuskegee's agricultural department achieved national renown under Carver's leadership, with a curriculum and a faculty that he helped to shape. Areas of research and training included methods of crop rotation and the development of alternative cash crops for farmers in areas heavily planted with cotton. This work helped under harsh conditions including the devastation of the boll weevil in 1892. The development of new crops and diversification of crop use helped to stabilize the livelihoods of people, many former slaves who had backgrounds not unlike Carver's own.
The education of African-American students at Tuskegee contributed directly to the effort of economic stabilization among blacks. In addition to formal education in a traditional classroom setting, Carver pioneered a mobile classroom to bring his lessons to farmers. The classroom was known as a "Jesup wagon," after New York financier and Tuskegee donor Morris Ketchum Jesup.
Carver went on to become a prominent scientific expert and one of the most famous African-Americans of his time. Carver achieved international fame in political and professional circles. President Theodore Roosevelt admired his work and sought his advice on agricultural matters in the United States. Carver was also recognized abroad for his scientific expertise. In 1916, he was made a member of the British Royal Society of Arts — a rare honor for an American. Carver also advised Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi on matters of agriculture and nutrition.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated $30,000 for the monument west of Diamond, Missouri — the site of the plantation where Carver lived as a child. This was the first national monument dedicated to an African-American. The 210-acre complex includes a statue of Carver as well as a nature trail, museum and cemetery.
Carver appeared on U.S. commemorative postal stamps in 1948 and 1998, as well as a commemorative half dollar coin minted between 1951 and 1954. Numerous schools bear his name, as do two United States military vessels. In 2005, the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis opened a George Washington Carver garden, which includes a life-size statue of the garden's famous namesake.
These honors attest to George Washington Carver's enduring legacy as an icon of African-American achievement, and of American ingenuity more broadly. Carver's life has come to symbolize the transformative potential of education, even for those born into the most unfortunate and difficult of circumstances.