CARVER, GEORGE WASHINGTON One of the most prominent and distinguished American blacks during the early twentieth century, George Washington Carver was born of slave parents in Missouri in 1864. A sickly child with a pronounced stammer, Carver worked as a farm hand, tried homesteading and wandered a great deal during his teenage years. As a result, he was in his mid-twenties before he completed high school. Determined to further his education, Carver worked his way through Iowa State College (Ames), from which he received a B. S. degree in 1894. He remained at Iowa State serving as an assistant botanist and head of the college greenhouse until he received his master's degree in agriculture and bacterial botany in 1896.
Shortly after earning his M. S. degree, Carver received and accepted an invitation from Booker T. Washington to teach and continue his research activities at Tuskegee Institute. He remained at Tuskegee until his death in 1943. In the meantime, Carver gained national and international fame as a pioneer in chemurgy, the science of utilizing organic products in the manufacture of non-organic products (e.g., using soybeans as the base for the making of plastics). He was also a pioneer in the field of dehydration, long before the process became an integral part of the American food industry.
Throughout his career, Carver was primarily concerned with improving southern agricultural conditions and, at the same time, improving the lot of southern blacks. Toward these ends, he was instrumental in persuading southern farmers to diversify their crops in order to escape dependence on a single crop (cotton) system. In place of cotton, which was depleting the soil and which suffered from the scourge of the boll weevil, Carver successfully advocated the cultivation of soil-enriching peanuts and sweet potatoes. Concurrently, he developed a number of processes to deal with peanut and sweet potato surpluses. Fromthe peanut, for example, he made such diverse products as cheese, coffee, flour, ink, milk, soap and insulation board.
Although many national laboratories periodically tried to lure Carver away from Tuskegee, he remained loyal to Booker T. Washington's school throughout his life. He was not particularly interested in fame or fortune. Most of his inventions and processes were never patented. On one occasion, he explained that his scientific ability was a gift from God and that inventions and processes should be universally shared without enhancing the financial status of the inventor. Buried alongside of Booker T. Washington, Carver's epitaph appropriately reads: "He could have added fortune to fame but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world."