George Washington Carver was born ca. 1864, in Diamond, Missouri. He was born into slavery, so there is no known documentation identifying his date of birth. Several weeks after young George was born, he was kidnapped along with his mother and sister. They were sold to another slave owner in Kentucky but George was later returned to Carver’s plantation.
After the Civil War concluded in 1865, George and his kin were freed. His former masters, Moses and his wife, Susan Carver, kept young George and his brother James in their care. Since no school in the surrounding area would teach Black children, the former slave owners taught the two brothers how to read and write.
As he grew older, George remained passionate about learning. He would travel 10 miles in order to attend a school for Black children. During this time, he began identifying himself as George Carver instead of his former name, Carver’s George. He ultimately graduated from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas and was later accepted into Highland College in Kansas.
Although he had been admitted to Highland College, his admittance was denied once the school learned that he was Black. He decided to conduct his own biological experiments and build his own geological collection outside of a classroom. Although Carver was interested in science, he also showed interest and natural talent in art, thus studying at Simpson College in Iowa.
While studying art and music at Simpson College, he sketched botanical samples. After a professor noticed his ability to artistically depict the natural world, Carver was prompted to enroll in the botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College.
After earning his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from Iowa State, Carver then began teaching and conducting research at the American Tuskegee Institute. Then-principal and founder of the institute, Booker T. Washington, hired Carver to oversee the agricultural department in 1896.
While under Carver’s leadership, the agricultural department of the Tuskegee Institute grew in notoriety for developing crops that could be grown instead of cotton. Carver’s work led to economic stability for many members of the Black community in the American South.
Carver became a famed scientist. President Theodore Roosevelt sought his advice regarding agricultural matters in the U.S., he advised political leader Mahatma Gandhi on issues pertaining to agriculture and nutrition, and he was declared a member of the British Royal Society of Arts. Carver used his platform to raise awareness of scientific causes and to praise the Tuskegee Institute.
Carver remains an iconic figure today for his work with a versatile crop–peanuts. He created hundreds of products from peanuts and sweet potatoes, including gasoline, plastic, dyes, flour, glue, and many more, earning the nickname, “the Peanut Man.” George Washington Carver fell down the stairs while at home and died on January 5, 1943. He was 78 years old.
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