George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was born to slave parents in the spring of 1865 near Diamond Grove, Missouri. Very little is known about his immediate family except that he had a brother and sister who died young.

When George was young, he could not speak, but he was especially good with plants. He would take mosses from the forest and replant them in the yard. With George’s tender care, in a few weeks flowers would be growing.He first went to school in Neosho, Missouri. Because he had to go to school in town, he lived with the Martin family. They were very kind to him. At first, George’s classmates called him “half wit”, because they thought he was not a very bright pupil. But that all changed. Before long, George was one of the top pupils in his class.

When the flour mill shut down, Mr. Martin was out of a job. The Martin’s future was at stake. Devastated, they moved to California leaving George with Aunt Mariah. Aunt Mariah was a very kind woman, and she warmly welcomed him into her home. Although it was small, George was happy there.

Back at school, George was doing well. One day, the teacher noticed that George wasn’t paying attention. She went over and picked up the sheet of paper he was drawing on. It was a beautiful picture of rolling hills and mountains. She urged George to join Miss Long’s drawing class. Before long, he was Miss Long’s star pupil.

George decided it was time to move on. Some of the better high schools were in Kansas, and they accepted Negroes. George traveled a long hard journey to Kansas. He got a job working in a restaurant while attending high school. George dearly wanted to go to college. He was very happy when he was accepted to Highland University in Kansas. However, when they found out George was a Negro, he was not allowed to attend Highland University.

George continued his search. In time, he was informed about another college. Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa had excellent Art and Music Departments, another talent of George’s. George was accepted to Simpson College, although he was Negro. George was a wonderful student and excellent artist. However, George was not satisfied. What George really wanted to do was to work with plants.

From there he decided to attend Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). However, there was one problem. The University didn’t allow Negroes to sleep in dormitories. So James Wilson, staff member, allowed George to sleep in his office.

George became the official “Caretaker for the Greenhouse”. He also opened a paint shop on campus. George thought everyone should be able to use the colors of God’s beautiful world. George graduated from Iowa Agricultural College with a B.S. and an M.S. in bacterial botany and agriculture in 1897. He was immediately asked to teach classes about agriculture at the University. George took the job, teaching classes about botany, soil conservation, and chemurgy.

George taught at Iowa Agricultural College for two years. Then he received a letter from Booker T. Washington. He wrote how the south was devastated, something had to be done. Such poverty! George knew what he had to do. He left Iowa Agricultural College to teach at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Although George liked teaching at the University, he had a mission to accomplish.

George had never seen such poverty. Children walked barefoot in thin rags. At Tuskegee there were no laboratory, greenhouses, or gardens. He would have been much better off in Iowa. Still, George was determined to bring the South out of poverty. Farming was not a popular subject. George rounded up a few students, but it was a very small class. Before starting the day’s lesson, George would talk to his students. He would tell them that the Earth was the Lord’s. He said there was rich soil, even in the South. He said, “One day there will be a crop that will change everything.” That was George’s mission.

George started to work in his so-called laboratory. He experimented with many different plants and crops. He discovered many different uses for the peanut. Some of the many uses for the peanut are: peanut butter, flour, paper, cream, mayonnaise, ink, shampoo, sugar, and shaving cream. Even 500 different dyes can be made from the peanut! Did you know that cheese can be made from the peanut? What about bleach? Or even instant coffee? These are all items that George discovered could be made from the peanut!

George was well known for his peanut rubbing oil. He became the official “rubber”. People would travel from miles away to have George rub their aches and pains. He once cured paralysis. (There is no proof if they were actually cured.) George also invented the crop-rotation method. One year you grew cotton. The next year you should grow another crop, such as peanuts. George proved that this greatly enriched the soil.

Troubles also came George’s way. When the cotton crop failed, George told everyone to grow peanuts. However, when it came time to sell, a peanut was hardly worth a cent. The Southerners were very angry. They said, “Why did we listen to him?” and would not speak or hear of him.

That all changed. George went to Washington D.C. to represent the National Peanut Growers Association. He showed some of the many items that could be made from peanuts. Then he explained how peanuts enriched the soil. All the members of the Congress agreed that peanuts were an important crop. Peanut prices went higher. To the Southerners George was now a friend, not a foe.

George was different than most people. He was offered many careers with very high salaries, but he stayed at Tuskegee. He wouldn’t even accept all his paychecks. He always wore the same tattered clothing, even though he could buy new clothes. George lived to be an old man. He never married, but Tuskegee did hire him an assistant. Although George was not too keen on this, he knew he could use some help. George’s assistant was Austin Curtis, Jr.

George died January 5, 1943. He was buried in the family lot in Diamond Grove, Missouri. He always loved the Ozark Mountains, and now he would remain with them.

George Washington Carver had many awards and recognitions. They were the Roosevelt Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Southern Agriculture in 1942 and the George Washington Carver Museum. His face was on commemorative postage stamps in 1947 and 1998, and a fifty cent coin in 1951. There is also a National Monument in Diamond Grove, Missouri. George was elected to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans in 1977 and entered into National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

“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,” said George Washington Carver.

He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world. This is the epitaph of George Washington Carver.

Created by Molly S.
Date Created: May 17, 2000
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